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2004 Shafer Vineyards “One Point Five” Cabernet , Stag’s Leap District, Napa

one_point_five.jpgWinemaking is often a family affair, especially in Europe where the wine often simply carries the family name and where it is made, sometimes for centuries. The winemaking family tradition is alive and well in the United States as well, and just as in Europe it is not at all unusual for the reigns of the winery to be passed from father to son, generation to generation.

Of course, that transition between generations is not like a passing a volleyball, or handing off a relay baton. Sure there’s a point at which the older generation steps back into “retirement” but before this happens there is often a time when two, or sometimes even three generations work together, sharing, learning, and preparing for the next era in the winemaking dynasty.

This wine is a celebration of just such a time. Named “One Point Five” to celebrate the close collaboration between the younger Doug Shafer and his father John Shafer for more than twenty years. Rather than joining an established family business, when he young Doug joined the operation as winemaker the winery had only been in operation for a couple of years, and so instead of learning at the knee of his father, the two have built the winery together as “one and a half” generations, instead of two.

What they have built, of course is one of those rare wineries whose wines are highly sought after while still remaining relatively easy to come by provided one has the financial means. Shafer Vineyards is one of the best examples of a luxury wine that is in the reach of mere mortals. In a remarkable feat, this winery makes enough wine for a wide distribution (35,000 cases) while still ensuring a fantastic level of quality. That number of cases is a drop in the bucket for some of Bordeaux’s biggest producers, but in the world of luxury Napa wines ($50 and up) that’s a pretty huge production level. Yet despite the volume, Shafer (like a select few other wineries in the Valley) manages to make great juice every year, often even in defiance of tough harvest conditions.

I’ve watched, and tasted, Shafer wines for as long as I’ve been able to afford good quality Napa wines, and I’ve always been impressed with the consistency and quality of the wines under the hand of winemaker Elias Fernandez, who has been with the winery since 1984.

Fernandez is a remarkably talented winemaker with an equally remarkable personal story, having started work with his parents in the orchards and vineyards of the Napa Valley over thirty years ago. His father was a first generation migrant worker from Michoacan, Mexico, and his mother was born in Napa, to a family with similar roots. Some of his earliest jobs involved picking and pruning in the valley while attending school in the Valley.

A short period of time studying music at college in Nevada was enough to convince Fernandez that he missed both the beauty of Napa valley as well as the agricultural life. He transferred to U.C. Davis, and began studying oenology, despite indications in the early 1980’s that there wasn’t much future in a career as a winemaker. With summer internships spent working on bottling lines, in the vineyards, and in the cellars of various Napa wineries, Fernandez learned enough and showed enough promise to be hired at Shafer as assistant winemaker right after graduation. The rest, as they say, is history.

And this wine is a new piece of history, so to speak. It’s not every day that a well established winery creates a new top-tier cuvee, but this appears to be one such occasion. Made primarily from Stag’s Leap District fruit, the wine is a nod to the very first Cabernet made by the winery, from vineyards that would eventually be part of the heart of the Stag’s Leap AVA. The wine contains 2% Petite Verdot, and spent 20 months in half French oak and half American oak, for both of which 65% were new barrels.

Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.

Tasting Notes:
Inky, very opaque garnet in the glass, this wine has a bright, sumptuous nose of cherries and cola. In the mouth it is smooth and satiny with great balance and weight on the palate. It has a slight sweetness to it (not untypical for Shafer wines) that highlights flavors of cherry and tobacco that ride on a supple and polished bed of tannins that propel the wine to a nice finish with a hint of spice and herbs. Wines like this prove that “hedonistic” is not a four letter word.

Food Pairing:
I’d love to serve this with a grilled spice-rubbed skirt steak.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $59

This wine is available for purchase on the internet.

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