Behind The Bottle #2 | Shale Cabernet Sauvignon
“Award-winning Napa Valley winemaker Andy Erickson takes you Behind the Bottle to introduce Seven Apart Shale Cabernet Sauvignon. The latest Shale vintage 2018 is now available on allocation only.”
Millions of years ago, Mount Saint Helena erupted spewing lava and ash across what today is called Napa Valley. Since then, much of the land has been cultivated, but certain hard-to-reach areas remained covered in volcanic rock. In 1999, one brave vintner decided to excavate the top of Atlas Peak, approximately 1,475ft above the valley floor. The volcanic rocks were the size of small cars, but determination paid off, and the land was finally cleared and planted with grapevines. The vineyard was named Stags Ridge and quickly flourished.
Seven Apart proprietor Don Dady is a long-time lover of world-class Cabernet Sauvignon. His passion eventually led him to the summit of Atlas Peak in Napa. In 2018 he purchased Stags Ridge Vineyard. He got to work and assembled a team including acclaimed winemaker Andy Erickson.
Under Andy’s stewardship, four distinct Seven Apart Cabernet Sauvignon wines have come to fruition: Expedition, Shale, Basalt, and Summit. In the second of our four-part journal series, Andy goes behind the bottle of each wine to share the full story. Whether you’re new to Seven Apart or a devoted aficionado, here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Seven Apart Shale.
Behind the Name
Meaning: ‘A soft finely stratified sedimentary rock formed from consolidated mud or clay and can be split easily into fragile plates.’
Shale takes its name straight from the fine-grained, laminated soil and rock in Stags Ridge vineyard. As the name suggests, “Shale” represents the finer, more detailed side of Seven Apart winemaking.
“Shale is beautifully layered,” opens Andy. “It is simultaneously hard, yet also easily pliable rock. This dichotomy of texture is really what we want the namesake wine to capture. It’s layered, but in a soft, gentle way that means you can dig into it easily.”
Behind the Vines
At 1,400 feet up in the air, the Stags Ridge vines grow above the fog line, meaning the vineyard gets generous sun exposure. It also faces the Pritchard Gap, an opening to San Francisco Bay. Like clockwork, every afternoon around 3pm, a breeze blows in on the San Francisco Bay to cool down the vineyard. This breeze also helps balance the sugar levels and acidity of the grapes. While all these elements factor into creating prime Cabernet Sauvignon terroir, the secret ingredient is the soil.
“The soil is more like a cobblestone street. There are giant rocks scattered throughout—some so large that we couldn’t install trellising into the ground!” shares Andy. According to him, the soil contributes big, round tannins and concentration to the Shale wine.
Seven Apart produces three other Cabernet Sauvignons from the Stags Ridge vineyard – Shale, Basalt, and Summit. Same vineyard, same variety. That means that the true art of winemaking is determined by the style selected by the winemakers and created during the blending process.
“While it may seem odd to craft three Cabernet Sauvignons from the same vineyard, that’s also the challenge for me. Even within one vineyard, you might have one section that gives you one unique element and another section that gives you something completely different. I view it as my mission to create unique expressions of our dramatic vineyard site on Atlas Peak,” says Andy.
Behind the Barrel
While at first sip, the two may seem at odds, Shale and Basalt form part of a complementary duo. Like yin and yang, where Basalt is bolder, Shale is more delicate. Andy describes the Shale as being crafted with softer tannins and a subtler aromatic profile.
“In truth, it’s not like I head into the vineyard during harvest and state that ‘this part is the shale this year!’”, smiles Andy. “Rather, we harvest the grapes and make individual components. Then we let them age for a year separately, and only after this does the craft of blending start.”
According to Andy, this is when he and the winemaking team taste for specific components that have the elegance and finesse best suited to the Shale style and start forming a blend. Once the envisioned Shale blend is composed, the wine is aged 24 months in the finest French oak.
“When the wine is aging, we rack the wine. Racking is moving wine from one vessel to another to remove sediment. Every time we do this, it allows us to taste every barrel for quality control,” explains Andy.
During this process, Andy and the winemaking team make little chalk notes on the barrel to communicate and comment on which component should go into the final wine. Here, the softer Shale expressions can be sorted from the more rugged variations reserved for the Basalt.
“It’s pretty interesting that the barrels will still be different even if it’s the same variety, vineyard, and fermentation. That’s the beauty of winemaking if you ask me,” ends Andy.
For the 2018 Shale 2018, Andy and the Seven Apart team selected only 9 barrels to be worthy of this final bottling.Described as graceful yet powerful, the latest 2018 vintage is produced from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags Ridge vineyard. At first sight, it shows a notable black-purple hue and great density. On the nose are intense aromas of black licorice and cassis, along with savory tones of teak oil, sage, baked bread, and chaparral. The wine brims with intense berry flavors, as well as soy, thyme, and orange blossoms.
Along with the voluminous palate impression, the tannins are highly polished, making for a long, velvety finish. The silky impression means that the wine is delightful now, in its youth, but with all of the structure and concentration, it will undoubtedly age for decades.
Join our Allocation
With only 9 barrels crafted, the 2018 Shale Cabernet Sauvignon is now available exclusively by allocation. Join us on this journey as we climb the mountain, push ourselves to the limits, and craft exceptional Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Sign up here if you’re ready to become a member of our allocation list and savor Napa at its peak.