2015 Hillside Select®
“The 2015 vintage gave us smaller berries packed with an immensity of pure, opulent aromas and flavors. This rich, polished hillside Cabernet Sauvignon overflows with briary black fruit, juicy black cherry, racy dried cranberry, black licorice, and freshly cracked pepper with elegant touches of cedar, baking spice, and wet stone. The finish is generous and persistent, while the tannins are ripe and integrated offering both a pleasurable experience now and the kind of structure that promises even more beauty with time.”
— Elias Fernandez, winemaker
Vintage and Production Notes
Release Date: September 1, 2019
Vineyard Location: 100% Shafer’s Hillside Estate Vineyards in Stags Leap District including the vineyard blocks Sunspot, John’s Upper Seven, Venado Ilegal and Firebreak.
The 2015 Growing Season: The warm, dry vintage gave us smaller berries packed with rich color and intense flavor becoming wines with excellent structure and extraction that are destined to age beautifully in the cellar.
Varietal Composition: 100% Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Brix at Harvest: 24.0° - 26.0°
Cooperage: 32 months in 100% new 60-gallon French oak barrels (Allier and Tronçais)
Suggested Retail: $310
Hillside Select Tasting Notes
2015 This rich, polished hillside Cabernet Sauvignon overflows with briary black fruit, juicy black cherry, racy dried cranberry, black licorice, and freshly cracked pepper with elegant touches of cedar, baking spice, and wet stone. The finish is generous and persistent, while the tannins are ripe and integrated offering both a pleasurable experience now and the kind of structure that promises even more beauty with time.
Drink now – 20 years
2014 Opens with an aromatic wave of deep, intense fruit and spices such as black plum, blackberry pie filling, cassis, and anise, along with nutmeg, dark toast, and dried rose pedals. The youthful energy in the nose is just as dramatic in the mouth with open, beautiful ripeness, mocha, briar fruit, pomegranate, baking spice, and ripe tannins that collectors will recognize as offering the promise of sensational things to come in the cellar.
Drink now – 19 years
2013 A rich, expansive wine balanced by liveliness and energetic aromas and flavors. This vintage is a liquid feast of black cherry, dark chocolate, briar fruit, black tea, cola, blackberry, tobacco, and aromatic herbs. All this abundance comes wrapped in slate minerality while wearing its Stags Leap District tannins with silky ease. It may be difficult to put off drinking this 100% hillside Cabernet Sauvignon but it is sure to offer greater riches with time in your cellar.
Drink now – 18 years
2012 Energetic aromas of juicy, dark fruit and white flowers are completed by complex, youthful core-flavors of blackberry, cassis, and black cherry along with delicate herbs, graphite, and smoke. The wine is smooth and balanced as it moves through the mouth. The texture is seamless and light on its feet with classic Stags Leap District tannins that are ripe and ready for aging. There’s a lot of lush, vivid pleasure in the bottle now with more to come with a few years in a good cellar.
Drink now – 18 years
2011 Brimming with vibrant mulberry and bramble fruit as well as tantalizing layers of chocolate, black truffle, tobacco, herbs, nutmeg, cinnamon and a slate-like minerality. A long, lifted finish. Very pretty.
Drink now – 15 years
2010 Exudes dramatic color, high-toned, elegant aromas and full, refined flavors of dark cherry, cassis, espresso, sweet vanilla and wet earth with enticing rose petal, cranberry, blueberry, oregano and sage. Smooth-textured tannins and a persistent finish.
Drink now – 16 years
2009 Fragrant aromas and luxuriant flavors of black fruit that are rich and juicy down to the core, with delicate layers of cocoa, black tea, spice, subtle toast and the kind of mouthfeel you only get with ripe, silky Stags Leap District tannins.
Drink now – 11 years
2008 Aromatic elegance leads to rich flavors of blackberry, black cherry, dark chocolate, cola, red plum, juicy black and red cherry, black tea, with spice and warm toast. Ripe, silken tannins result in a pleasing, lengthy finish, smooth texture, and a refined structure. Deep and rich.
Drink now – 14 years
2007 Aromas and flavors of black fruit, mocha, black plums, cassis, juicy black and red cherry, black tea, cedar, with spice and warm toast. Still youthful. Ripe, smooth and an elegant structure.
Drink now – 14 years
2006 Aromatic beauty and a core of juicy, black fruit, chocolate, black plums, cola, cassis, black and red cherry, black tea, and vanilla and spice. Ripe tannins and good structure.
Drink now – 12 years
2005 Enticing and complex. Aromas of blackberry and cassis, flavors of black cherry, currant, cassis liqueur, black plum, dark chocolate, leather, spice and tobacco. Round, smooth tannins.
Drink now – 10 years
2004 Enduring aromas and flavors of blackberry, cassis, dark chocolate, juicy black cherry, black pepper integrated nicely with silky tannins.
Drink now – 12 years
2003 Expansive and round. Aromas and flavors of blackberry, black cherry and baking spice with a rich cassis, blackberry, toast, mocha, herbs, and a seamless integration of soft, ripe tannins. Very pretty.
Drink now – 10 years
2002 Harmonious, vibrant black cherry, rich plum, black fruit, red currant, red plum, and dark chocolate shot through with toasty vanilla, blueberry, and cedar.
Drink now – 10 years
2001 Elegant blackberry, currant, black cherry, cola, mocha, and cassis; rich, stylish dark fruit flavors, with a balanced seasoning of minerals, smoke, vanilla, tobacco, and herbs.
Drink now – 8 years
2000 Pleasing black fruit, pepper, mineral, sweet-spicy vanilla, and dried herbs. Showing mature characteristics of cedar and tea. A core of sweetness and supple, mature tannins.
Drink now – 2 years
1999 Tantalizing blackberry, cola, tobacco leaf, and minerals with a core of sweetness.
Drink now – 5 years
1998 Deep color at the core of the glass with soft tannins and luscious blend of currants, vanilla and mineral in the mouth and a long finish.
Drink now – 3 years
1997 Beautiful cedar, tea, cherries, rhubarb, and tobacco. Rich mouthfeel, dark color, with flavors of chocolate, spice, and black fruit.
Drink now – 4 years
1996 Alluring aromatics and elegantly balanced fruit flavors. Showing plush black currant and dark spice with a long finish.
Drink now - 2 years
1995 Shows composure and enticing complexity. Elegant with velvety brick color and maturing flavors.
Drink now – 1 year
1994 Great nose. Showing delicate, vibrant layers of cherries, strawberries, tea, cedar, tobacco and leather. Very pretty with lovely bottle bouquet.
1993 Mature color with a brick-red rim; oak toast, plums and nice earth/mineral notes in the nose. Pleasing depth and finesse.
1992 Amber at the edges of the glass. A smooth, seamless wine. Long finish. Showing bottle bouquet.
1991 Deep color in the center of the glass with red/orange at the edges, elegant, great length and smooth finish.
1990 Beautiful color with flavors and aromas of tea, herbs, spice, cedar and mushroom. Mature and balanced with a silky texture and pleasing finish.
1989 Complex, mature Cabernet aromas that lead to flavors of dried herb, black tea, rose petal, and cedar. Soft tannins, velvety mouthfeel, nice length.
1988 Medium dark color, floral notes in the nose. Medium bodied, mature Cabernet flavors and moderate tannins.
1987 Mature, herbal aromas. Complex Cabernet Sauvignon flavors balanced by soft tannins.
1986 Developed aromas of earth and mature fruit. Complex bottle bouquet.
1985 Mature color with restrained, delicate flavors. Still some brightness and liveliness.
1984 Still showing sweetness with lovely color, herbal aromas. Medium body, mature flavors.
1983 Fully mature color and aromas. Nice acidity complements mature flavors and resolved tannins.
Video: Hillside Select – History and Pedigree
John Shafer gives an overview of what it took to create his family winery and produce his first Cabernet Sauvignon. That first Shafer wine, sourced from his first hillside vines, set the tone for today’s Hillside Select.
The Hillside Select Story
Hillside Select is sourced from a collection of 14 small vineyard blocks planted within an eons-old amphitheater-like structure of rock and volcanic soil that surrounds the winery. Thanks to scant soil nutrients and moisture, yields at harvest are meager and the berries are small, about the size of blueberries. This Stags Leap District site’s combination of rugged, arid soil and climate results in lush Cabernet Sauvignon fruit with dark color and intense, classic flavor.
Elegant Cabernet Sauvignon Flavors From Rugged Vineyard Site
Sheer rock walls tower along the eastern boundary of Shafer’s hillside estate vineyards, reflecting the warming rays of the afternoon sun and channeling cool breezes off the bay. These are the Stags Leap palisades from which this small appellation takes its name. They create a craggy amphitheater that is home to Shafer Vineyards and stand as a silent testament to the eons-old history of the place.
On this remote site Cabernet Sauvignon vines prod their roots through thin, volcanic soil before hitting weathered bedrock below. Thanks to scant nutrients and soil moisture the yields are meager; the berries at harvest time are small, about the size of blueberries. They’re dark and intensely flavored.
Shafer’s property has been the site of vineyard cultivation since the 1880s, but it wasn’t until the 1970s when John Shafer came to Napa Valley looking for a hillside site, that vines were planted on these rock-choked slopes.
Napa Valley viticulture was a different world in the 1970s, when Shafer acquired the neglected vineyards planted 50 years earlier by a farmer named Batista Scansi. White varietals sometimes grew side by side with red, modern trellising was unknown, and existing vineyards had been planted with little regard to what is now known about the relationship between terroir and varietal. On the Shafer property, vine spacing of the original hillside vineyard was on an 8 x 8 foot grid and cross cultivation by tractor proved perilous, as the machine side-slipped down the rocky slope.
Planting the steep upper vineyard called for dynamite to uproot truck-sized boulders and clear the land for planting, actions that earned the precipitous vineyard block its name of “John’s Folly.” Today, John’s Folly is the grand-dad of the hillside Cabernet blocks, an important component of Hillside Select Cabernet. It comes as no surprise that many of the vineyard blocks bear the names of favorite ski runs, one of them Sunspot, named after a challenging slope in Alta, Utah.
Made from a single varietal, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, Hillside Select gains complexity from the variety of clones and rootstocks planted in the vineyards, each of which adds its individual characteristics to the finished wine.
The exposure of each vineyard block is also part of the complexity equation. Upper and Lower Sunspot blocks, for example, obtain maximum sunlight because they face southwest, ideal in most vintages because the vines receive the last warming rays of the setting sun, but requiring close monitoring for sunburn if a heat spike occurs. Other blocks like John’s Folly, Rattler and Lookout have a southern exposure and are shaded by the contours of the hills earlier in the evening, ripening slowly and evenly, ensuring long hang time.
The range of vineyard exposures and diversity of clones, each ripening on a slightly different schedule, ensure that Hillside Select will be produced each year regardless of the vagaries of the weather, although quantities will vary by vintage.
Until recent years, a well-tended vineyard was notable for its neatness: the earth cleared of any other greenery that might compete with the vines. Along with the risk of toxicity to humans and other life forms, the herbicides used left the vines as even greater targets to voracious insects. Fighting these pests took another layer of chemical treatment. And the meager soil of hillside vineyards was vulnerable to loss from winter runoff, depleting an already precious resource.
In the 1980s, Doug Shafer, John’s son, began a program of sustainable agriculture, planting native cover crops to offer cover to beneficial and predacious insects, control erosion, and serve as compost when the greens were turned into the soil at the end of their growing cycle. Above ground, Shafer erected hawk perches and barn owl boxes to attract birds of prey to naturally control unwanted rodents (this eliminated the need for rodent poisons). Each year, the thin soil of the hillside vineyards is enriched, and the reliance on chemicals in the vineyard is eliminated.
From the first vintage, the wine from the hillside vineyards showed the same intense fruit and velvety texture year after year. It was an expression of the land, a wine of a place, and it became Shafer’s signature wine, Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon.
The hillside grapes are picked into small bins, so they arrive at the crush pad intact, not crushed under their own weight. Culled early in the growing season, the grapes are meticulously sorted again by hand in the field prior to harvest, arriving at the crush pad clean. At the winery, state-of-the-art crushing equipment continues the sorting, with a cage sized just for the diminutive hillside grapes removing the fragile stems, which tend to separate easily from the small hillside-grown berries.
Once in the fermenter, the hillside juice is given special treatment. The maceration and gentle pumping-over are designed to extract every nuance from the grapes. Even the barrels used for aging are selected individually from a shipment of the finest tight-grain
French oak; winemaker Elias Fernandez smells each barrel to choose the most aromatic for the Hillside Select Cabernet.
The wine ages in new French oak barrels for 32 months prior to bottling. The Cabernet rests for another year in the bottle before it is ready for release.
In the end only about 2,400 cases of Shafer’s signature wine are produced each year, offered on a limited basis to lovers of fine wine and to top restaurants and hotels in selected markets throughout the world.
Shafer Donates Land to Help Wildlife Rehabilitation
Shafer recently donated five acres of land to Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County, which dubbed the site “Shafer Sanctuary,” and has built an aviary on it to rehabilitate wild birds.
At Shafer the Aromas and Flavors of ‘Corked’ Wine Are History. For more than 20 years the winemaking team at Shafer has been fighting TCA on multiple fronts and they’re winning.
Shafer Announces the End of Corked Corks
Learn how Shafer is combining the running of an obsessively clean cellar with the latest innovations from its cork partners to cut the chances of a wine leaving Shafer with cork taint effectively to zero.
Robert M. Parker reviews a complete vertical of Hillside Select
After tasting through a complete vertical of Hillside Select (1983 to 2013), Robert M. Parker, Jr. has published his tasting notes. Click here for a complete version (PDF).