‘A winery like no other on our planet’
For our last article during California Wine Month we are going to the very pinnacle of winemaking.
Although it was on an evening years ago, I remember the phone call well; my wife had answered it and after listening for a while she covered the mouthpiece and quietly said to me: “He says that he is in the American Club in Tokyo and that the manager has given him our phone number and told him to call us if he wants his wine in Bermuda.
“His name is John Shafer and he has a winery in Napa Valley.” I was not sure if I had heard of him or not, but that is how it all began and, since then, John and his wife Barbara have even dined in our home.
To give you an idea of where we are heading, we presently stock eight wines from Shafer Vineyards (when you count the various vintages). Their critic scores are 94/100, 96, 94, 96, 100, 96, 99 and 96. This could well be a record that no other winery on our planet has achieved. When our allocation of Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 arrives, we can add a Parker score of 98-100/100.
On our first visit to Shafer, John took me out to their Hillside Vineyard and, as I stared up at the two rock outcrops (where that legendary stag leapt from one to the other), he pointed out tall posts where hawks perched and others with small houses on them for owl families. I was told that no poisons had to be used to control gophers, moles and other pests.
Today, Shafer is 100 per cent solar-powered and this has the effect of 30,000 air-purifying trees.
Bats patrol for insects, water is recycled and covercrops prevent soil erosion and harbour spiders and ladybugs that eat vine-damaging insects.
Wine is our climate in a bottle and this family is dedicated to its wellbeing.
Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon is a benchmark and not only for California; at an international blind tasting held in Germany it outranked Chateau Latour, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Palmer.
We presently have five vintages and I will tell you about an older and a younger.
Here is what Wine Enthusiast magazine said about the 2003 in 2008: “96/100 *Cellar Selection* Solidly in the Hillside Select model, this vigorous young cab is dramatically ripe and powerful. The flavours of red-and blackcurrants, milk chocolate, figs and smoky vanilla erupt in the mouth, making the taste buds jump with joy. However, there is also the structure, among the greatest in California cabs.
“The acidity is fine, but the tannins are stupendously rich, sweet and complex, practically a food group in themselves. Stunning and gorgeous.” Shafer 2003 Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $212.45 Here is what Robert Parker wrote in 2014: “100/100 A remarkable wine, the 2010 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select has gone from strength to strength since it was in cask.
“It is stunningly rich, with classic, fragrant notes of blackcurrants, blackberries, vanilla, graphite and spring flowers. It exhibits an opaque purple colour, with a full-bodied, massive mouthfeel, but no heaviness and, again, a flawless integration of acidity, tannin, alcohol and wood. It's classic California cabernet, but beautifully put together, showing impeccable craftsmanship and fabulous potential.
“This is obviously a very young, infantile style of cabernet that won't hit its prime for at least another decade and last close to half-a-century, based on how older vintages that were less well-endowed have matured from Shafer. $293.40. We sell the Shafer “One Point Five” 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stag's Leap District for $95 and it is also one of the outstanding bottles from this area where cabernet sauvignon soars.
Wine Enthusiast rates it 94/100 and says: “Crushed blackberries compete with a hearty bouquet of violet in this gigantically powerful and structured wine. Soft and leathery, it features spikes of black pepper, vanilla and pungent black earth amid a dense, concentrated finesse of tannin and oak, with a lengthy finish awaiting. This is power at its best, a reflection of an idyllic vintage in the hands of a skilled producer.” (5/2015).
We also stock Shafer Merlot 2013 and their “Relentless” Syrah/Petite Sirah blend from 2011; their 2008 was number one on the Wine Spectator's top 100 wines in the world. Let me briefly tell you about their 2013 Red Shoulder Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay that comes from a 68-acre plot in the Carneros District near the northern tip of San Francisco Bay. It also received a 94/100 from Wine Enthusiast and Parker has called it one of the finest non-malolactic Chardonnays from California. 2013 is a superb vintage that fills your glass with citrus-flower aromas and flavours of apricot, red and green apple, honeysuckle, kiwi, pineapple, lemon zest, vanilla and just the right touch of minerality. $67.50. This vineyard is named for the red-shouldered hawks that patrol it for rodent pests.
• This column is a paid-for advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Michael Robinson is Director of Wine at Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George's (York Street, 297-0409). A selection of their wines, beers and spirits is available online at www.wineonline.bm.