In 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 District.

"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 'terroir'."

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."

Shafer Vineyards / 6154 Silverado Trail / Napa, CA 94558 / 707-944-2877

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