There are not many estates in California – indeed, anywhere – which have had the same owners and winemaking team right from the start and throughout, in this case covering almost 40 years. Founded by one-time publishing magnate John Shafer in 1972, this Stag’s Leap estate has gone from strength to strength; with John’s son Doug coming on board straight from UC Davis (the USA’s leading oenology college) in 1982, followed swiftly by Elias Fernandez (another UCD graduate), the team that would guide wine production from expensive hobby to globally recognised superstar was founded – and has remained. Nowadays Doug is one of the most storied and recognised winegrowers in the world.
Located in the south-east of the Valley, Stag’s Leap is one of the finest areas for growing Cabernet and the Shafer estate occupies a perfect south-and-west exposed amphitheatre in the Stag’s Leap foothills. This gives a more temperate environment than in the more exposed valley floor and also opens the vines up the extremes of the cooling winds and fog from San Pablo Bay – allowing for slower, more even ripening. The complex, volcanic and shale soils also influence the production of small, tight clusters of berries giving low yields of exceptionally full-flavoured juice and ripe tannins. Production volume is at low-end Petrus levels (~2000cs), with wines that are intense and hedonistic but show extraordinary ageability thanks to their fabulous balance.