2019 Hillside Select®
Hillside Select is a wine of a place, sourced from carefully selected blocks of Stags Leap District hillside vineyards. These grapes are small and deeply colored, with concentrated flavors enhanced by meticulous winemaking and extensive aging in French oak barrels. Hillside Select consistently expresses the voluptuous fruit, rich flavors, and velvety texture that characterize grapes grown in this renown AVA.
“The 2019 vintage embodies classic Hillside Select richness, vibrancy, and balance. The aromas push out of the glass, offering black cherry, cedar, cassis, and juicy red summer berries with lifted floral tones. Even at this youthful age, the complexity of the vintage is striking, merging dark fruit with tobacco, espresso, black olive, red plum, and black tea. The expansive mid-palate is complemented by ripe integrated tannins that add depth and structure, culminating in a long, profound finish.”
— Elias Fernandez, winemaker
“… another magical vintage for this cuvée. All Cabernet Sauvignon from hillside vineyards on the eastern side of Stags Leap, it offers a vivid purple hue as well as extraordinary notes of cassis, black raspberries, violets, camphor, and spring flowers, with perfectly integrated background oak. Full-bodied but not massive, it’s flawlessly balanced on the palate and has ultra-fine tannins, a seamless, elegant mouthfeel, and a great, great finish. It’s another 30- to 40-year wine from this incredible team that readers will absolutely love.” 98+ — Jeb Dunnuck
“ ... another highly successful vintage ... rich, dense and concentrated—a truly impressive California vin de garde ... it finishes long and firm on the finish, adding a hint of mocha.” 98+ — Joe Czerwinski, Robert Parker Wine Advocate
“… one of the most elegant wines I have tasted at Shafer. Effusive aromatics and silky tannins are immediately captivating. Crushed red/purplish berry fruit, mint, spice, lavender and licorice are all finely knit. We’ll see, but the 2019 may very well represent a new direction for Hillside Select, one of Napa Valley’s most iconic Cabernets.” 98 — Antonio Galloni, Vinous
“A beautiful nose of pitted cherries, redcurrants, fresh herbs and violets. Full-bodied with fine, structured tannins. More gravelly, mineral and dark than the nose lets on. Savory almost. Terrific depth and concentration that keeps the palate flavorful through the generous finish. Chocolate, sage, rosemary, bark and moss. Layered. Superb wine.” 98 — James Suckling
Vintage and Production Notes
Release Date: September 1, 2023
Vineyard Location: 100% hillside vineyards in Stags Leap District including Shafer's estate vineyard blocks Sunspot, John’s Upper 7, Venado Ilegal, and Firebreak.
The 2019 Growing Season: The long, sunny 2019 summer created a beautiful growing season for our Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit developed classic, rich color and clean, elegant, and pure aromas and flavors.
Varietal Composition: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Brix at Harvest: 24.0° - 26.0°
Cooperage: 32 months in 100% new 60-gallon French oak barrels (Allier and Tronçais)
Hillside Select Tasting Notes
2019 Embodies classic Hillside Select richness, vibrancy, and balance. The aromas push out of the glass, offering black cherry, cedar, cassis, and juicy red summer berries with lifted floral tones. Even at this youthful age, the complexity of the vintage is striking, merging dark fruit with tobacco, espresso, black olive, red plum, and black tea. The expansive mid-palate is complemented by ripe integrated tannins that add depth and structure, culminating in a long, profound finish.
Drink now – 20 years
2018 An enticing balance of opulence and energy. This classic Cabernet Sauvignon fills the glass with vivid aromas of blackberry, black cherry, warm earth, and baking spice. The flavors richly echo the wine’s aromas, adding juicy layers of summer briar fruit, berry compote, cinnamon, lively red and black plums, and mocha with a long, radiant finish. Structured tannins offer the promise of a lengthy, sumptuous tenure in your cellar.
Drink now – 19/20 years
2017 The 2017 is our 35th vintage of Hillside Select and this release more than earns its place in this lineage. In the glass you’ll find rich, radiant aromas of blackberry, cocoa, black cherry, rhubarb, rose water, and espresso. The mouth is a juicy, energetic cascade of summer bramble fruit, cassis, black licorice, red plum, fresh cracked pepper, and baking spice with a lengthy, compelling finish. All this decadence comes wrapped in ripe tannins for long-term aging in your cellar.
Drink now – 18/19 years
2016 A rich, profound expression of Hillside Select that is lifted, fresh, and vibrant. This Cabernet Sauvignon fills the glass with aromas of blackberry, cassis, currant, wet stone, chocolate, briar fruit, and allspice. In the mouth, from a foundation of lush, dark fruit, emerges juicy red plum, raspberry, black pepper, and touches of lavender and anise. The tannins are ripe and silky, offering the promise of beautiful things to come with cellaring.
Drink now – 17/18 years
2015 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.
Drink now – 17 years
2014 Aromas of black plum, blackberry pie filling, cassis, and anise, along with nutmeg, dark toast, and dried rose petals. The 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 – 16 years
2013 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. Still youthful.
Drink now – 16 years
2012 Aromas of dark fruit and floral notes are completed by 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.
Drink now – 15 years
2011 Brimming with enticing 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 – 12/14 years
2010 Beautiful color, high-toned, elegant aromas and 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 – 12/13 years
2009 Fragrant aromas and luxuriant flavors of black fruit that are rich and juicy 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 – 9/10 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.
Drink now – 12 years
2007 Aromas and flavors of black fruit, mocha, black plums, cassis, black and red cherry, black tea, cedar, with spice and warm toast. Ripe, smooth and an elegant structure.
Drink now – 11/12 years
2006 Aromatic beauty and a core of black fruit, chocolate, black plums, cola, cassis, black and red cherry, black tea, and vanilla and spice. Ripe tannins and good structure.
Drink now – 10 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 – 8 years
2004 Enduring aromas and flavors of blackberry, cassis, dark chocolate, juicy black cherry, black pepper integrated nicely with silky tannins.
Drink now – 8/9 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 – 8 years
2002 Harmonious, vibrant black cherry, rich plum, black fruit, red currant, red plum, and dark chocolate shot through with toasty vanilla and cedar.
Drink now – 7 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 – 6 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.
1999 Tantalizing blackberry, cola, tobacco leaf, and minerals with a core of sweetness.
Drink now – 3 years
1998 Soft tannins and luscious blend of currants, vanilla, black tea, and mineral in the mouth and a long finish.
Drink now – 2 years
1997 Beautiful cedar, tea, cherries, rhubarb, and tobacco. Rich mouthfeel, dark color, with flavors of chocolate, spice, and black fruit.
Drink now – 1 years
1996 Alluring aromatics and elegantly balanced fruit flavors. Showing black currant and dark spice with a long finish.
1995 Shows composure and enticing complexity. Elegant with velvety brick color and maturing flavors.
1994 Showing delicate, vibrant layers of cherries, strawberries, tea, cedar, tobacco and leather. Very pretty with lovely bottle bouquet.
1993 Mature color; 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 Elegant, mature aromas and flavors, great length and smooth finish.
1990 Beautiful old velvet 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 of dried roses and iodine. Resolved tannins.
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.