other parts of the world it's long been taken for granted that characteristics
of individual vineyards (the soil, the weather, and so on) are ultimately expressed
in the wine. In France, this direct correlation is referred to as "terroIr" and
the concept is quickly gaining credence in California.
With all the importance that's beginning to be placed on location, it's somewhat
fitting that it was a real estate agent's maxim on location that convinced John
Shafer to commit to his original purchase of hillside property in the Stags Leap
"We were lucky," admits John. "We bought the property back in 1972, a couple of
years before the Paris tasting made it such a desirable neighborhood... and while
our agent sold us on the view and the vineyard possibilities, nobody ever discussed
Just as location originally played a big part in the Shafer's choice of property,
today the same location plays an even bigger part in the production of Shafer's
flagship wine: the Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon. Harvested from three vineyard
blocks from the hills behind the winery, the grapes are remarkably similar year
after year -- as if they are aware of their lineage, and proud of the hillside
they call home.
As a whole, Stags Leap District Cabernets have a voluptuous softness to them,
and the Hillside grapes certainly share that distinction. But the steep slopes,
with their gravel and volcanic bedrock, do make the vines work a little harder
than their valley floor brethren, concentrating the fruit while adding overtones
of chocolate, coffee and cherries.
The Hillside Select is 100% Cabernet. The Shafer family figures that blending
doesn't necessarily make for a better wine... as long as you have great Cabernet
Sauvignon grapes to begin with. While the wine is well developed and very approachable
when released, with soft tannins from four-and-a-half years of aging at the winery,
it will it will age gracefully for years. It is and extraordinary wine... but
what else would you expect given the Shafer hillside pedigree?
There is one downside to the terraced vineyards. "Getting the grapes off the hill
and down to the winery is a bear," smiles Doug. "Every year at harvest, we refer
to those hills as the 'holy terror' as we rescue another grape gondola that's
jack-knifed down the slopes."
"Or, to be more precise," puns John, "the holy terroir."