“This was a beautiful vintage for Merlot. From the first pour the wine opens an of abundance enticing aromas and mouth-coating flavors of fresh summer berries, dark plums, and strawberries, fresh herbs and flowers all presented with juicy energy, surrounded by seamlessly textured tannins that will age attractively with cellaring.”
— Shafer winemaker Elias Fernandez
Vintage and Production Notes
Release Date: September 1, 2016
Vineyard Location: A Yountville site and a vineyard in the foothills just south of Stags Leap District
The 2014 Growing Season: This was another in a string of warm, sun-soaked vintages from spring through early autumn. The consistency of daytime heat and evening coolness created a model growing season in which we harvested fruit with abundant color and concentration, along with enticing, rich aromatics.
Varietal Composition: 78% Merlot, 14% Malbec, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon
Brix at Harvest: 23.5° – 25.5°
Cooperage: 20 months in 60-gallon French oak barrels (75% new: Allier and Tronçais)
Suggested CA Retail: $55
Video: Three Decades of Merlot
The origin story of our decades-long love affair with this wine, in which Doug Shafer reveals how he talked his dad, John Shafer, into launching Merlot production back in the early 1980s.
The Shafer Merlot Story
Merlot was the wine that put Shafer on the map in the early 1980s. We were producing a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay but so was everyone else in Napa Valley. When Shafer Merlot started showing up in retail shops and restaurants, people took notice. Merlot is a difficult grape to get right in the vineyard and the cellar and it falls in and out of favor with critics – doesn’t matter. We love this lush, soulful variety and look forward to producing it vintage after delicious vintage.
When the Shafer family moved to Napa Valley in 1973, Merlot was a minor variety used simply as a blending grape to soften Cabernet Sauvignon.
By the early 1980s change was in the air. Doug Shafer had earned his degree in viticulture from UC Davis and was assistant winemaker at Lakespring Winery where they, like a few other local wineries, had started producing Merlot as its own varietal.
Doug loved that Merlot was softer, brighter, and juicier than Cabernet Sauvignon with mouth-filling red fruit such as cherry and strawberry. When made properly it had depth and age-ability. He started bugging his father John Shafer, who’d started Shafer Vineyards in 1978, saying, “You should plant some Merlot.” Doug was so convinced that Merlot would connect with a lot of fans he kept after his dad and finally John Shafer relented.
A New Era Begins
On a chilly January morning in 1981, a crew of guys warmed up their chainsaws, standing among three-acres of decades-old Zinfandel vines in a vineyard block called Lower Sunspot.
John looked to his son Doug with a smile, “Are we really going to do this?”
Soon the vineyard block was filled with the smell of newly cut wood. Afterward the Shafer team grafted Merlot budwood that John had secured from Three Palms Vineyard onto the Zinfandel trunks using a process called T-budding.
The first Shafer Merlot was the 1983 vintage, released in 1985, to a great deal of good press and consumer demand. Nearly all Napa Valley wineries offered a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon; Merlot on the other hand was just bursting onto the scene and it was flying off the shelves.
Eventually this popularity created adverse results because Merlot is a difficult grape to cultivate. A bit too much frost early in the season, a day or two of rain, a spike in the temperature and Merlot doesn’t respond well. It requires a lot of vine-by-vine attention or harvest will yield tons of under-ripe fruit.
The Other Side of Success
By the early 2000s consumers were swimming in a sea of Merlots that were thin, green, and uninspired. When the character Miles in the 2004 movie Sideways said in no uncertain terms that he would not be drinking any [bleeping] Merlot, he expressed what many consumers were feeling.
Wineries across the U.S. suddenly found themselves with a lot of Merlot they couldn’t sell. Countless acres of Merlot vines were torn out and planted to new varieties.
Meanwhile at Shafer, after more than 20 years of careful, attentive cultivation and production, Merlot was still winning over new fans. And sales of Shafer Merlot went up.
Merlot on the Rise
Today Merlot is a success story again. Producers who know and love this grape have stayed with it. Many of these wines reflect the depth and lushness the variety is known for in other parts of the world. Finally Merlot is taking its place as a great wine on our shores too.
Shafer grows about half of its own fruit in a secluded vineyard just south of Stags Leap District and sources the remainder from small, carefully tended vineyards that predominantly lie along the rugged foothills running along the cool eastern edge of Napa Valley’s southern end.
By focusing along this corridor and working meticulously for the highest quality in the vineyard and in the cellar Shafer’s Merlot achieves the kind of ripeness that expresses varietal character in layers of rich, plush flavors and aromas.
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).