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Shafer Vineyards, a hidden gem on the Silverado Trail

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The Silverado Trail is a road of many treasures; some of them are hidden. One such hidden treasure is Shafer Vineyards, which is set back away from the road and tucked into the hillside so that drivers speeding by have no inkling what they’ve just passed, or what they’re missing.

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The winery is on the east side of the Trail, and the turn into the road that leads to it is easy to miss, marked as it is only by a humble stack of wooden address signs. The address—and the number to look for on the signs—is 6154 Silverado Trail. Follow a road that says “Private” and you’ll come to the formal entrance of the vineyards with its stone markers.

Shafer resides in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley, an area notable for its world-famous Cabernet Sauvignon and the craggy rock outcroppings of the Vaca Mountains that form the valley’s east side. The Wappo Indians gave Stags Leap its name because they felt it resembled a stag in flight being chased by hunters.

Those rock cliffs and bluffs that predate the Wappos and all human habitation come into sharper view as you proceed up the entry road with olive trees that takes you up to the winery buildings. There, you can abandon your automotive steed. Mount some stairs and on the patio you will be greeted by Tucker the dog, whose name and phone number are listed on his tag in case he should decide to run away.

The beginnings of Shafer Vineyards date to the early 1970s when John Shafer, then a Chicago corporate executive, came to Napa Valley to buy some land, form a winery and change his life. “When I first started looking around to buy property here,” he explained, “I was seeking a hillside vineyard. There weren’t many at the time. Most of the vineyards that were for sale were on the valley floor. But I’d done some research and that was my goal. To have a hillside vineyard.”

Now an elderly man (his son Doug is vineyard president) with sweet soft eyes and a kind, roundish face, Shafer made these comments while sitting not far from Tucker on a terrace overlooking a piece of his hillside vineyard, goal achieved. Behind him in the distance a hawk glided around in the updrafts hoping, no doubt, to have a tasty bite or two of any rodents that might be scurrying below. Finding none, he turned off.

If the hawk was disappointed by what he found at Shafer, he might be the only one. Robert Parker described it as “one of the world’s great wineries” and others have lavished similar praise. A friend in the water business told me that every year the Shafers hold a party for the contractors and others who do work for them at their Hillside Estate and other properties. He goes to this party, he says, because of the hospitality they show and because he loves to stand on that terrace, drink in hand, and lift his eye up to those high rocky regions.

The public is welcome at Shafer. Tastings are held, by appointment only, Monday-Friday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. A tasting lasts about 90 minutes and consists of 10 or fewer people. It includes five wines, including Shafer’s signature Hillside Select, for $55 per person. Retail sales occur on site weekdays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed weekends and holidays. Contact Shafer Vineyards to make appointments and learn more.

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