Last week Bruce Cakebread, son of Napa Valley’s Cakebread Cellars founders Jack and Delores Cakebread, was in Dallas for a visit and I had an opportunity to sit down with him over lunch at Ocean Prime. While noshing on a stunning cold shellfish platter, while sipping an equally stunning, mineral rich Sauvignon Blanc from their estate vineyards in Rutherford, Calistoga and Carneros we chatted about the almost 40 year history of Cakebread and how the winery has become one of the most respected and well known wineries in Napa Valley. How did this happen? By creating a highly efficient, customer focused winery with uncompromising quality.
Bruce, currently the President and COO for Cakebread and formerly the winemaker, notes that the family doesn’t forget where they came from, with the first vintage of their then 20 acre estate yielding just 157 cases of Chardonnay in 1973, which they sold to a wine shop just up the road in Yountville. Today the family owns 460 total acres and produces 175,000 cases sold on an international market. He reminisced about his first wine trips with his father, getting the word out about Cakebread. His very first trip was actually to Texas, where he and his dad went to Austin for a tasting sponsored by the PBS station in the market, KLRU. They keep the business in the family, which remains the most important thing.
They also have turned an eye to green farming, actively participating in Napa Green, finding ways to protect the land, and to teaching chefs from across the country how to best utilize locally sourced products through their American Harvest Workshop. Now in its 25th year, The American Harvest Workshop brings five chefs from various parts of the country together with artisan food producers and consumers for a multi-day event featuring harvesting grapes, honey collecting from the bee hives on the estate, farmers market visits, farm visits and extensive planning, menu creating and cooking with these ingredients, paired with great Cakebread wine. Over 300 chefs have participated in the program since it began in 1987, including Dean Fearing in their inaugural year, Marc Cassel in 2002 then at The Green Room, George Brown in 2006 Scott Gottlich from Bijoux in 2009. Dates for 2011 have yet to be announced, but will likely take place in mid-September.
Throughout our discussion we continued to taste through the Cakebread portfolio, which has come a long way since the first 157 cases of Chardonnay. Though Chardonnay remains a staple in their wine production, they have added Sauvignon Blanc (as noted), Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition to the Napa Valley Chardonnay, they have added a Reserve Chardonnay made from fruit grown in their Carneros Estate Vineyard, and aged 15 months sur lee in partially new French Oak, adding a layer of cream to the crisp green apple and peach flavors in the wine.
Cakebread makes about 1500-2000 cases of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and , depending on the yield of the fruit each year. The wine is concentrated with blackberry and herbal aromas, and a delicate fruit forward palate. Cakebread Zinfandel from Lake County is filled with black cherry and raspberry with a layer of dust and sweet spice, perfectly paired with anything chocolate. Outside of Chardonnay, Cakebread is probably best known for their Cabernet Sauvignon. An elegant Cabernet reflective of why Napa Valley is known for great Cabernet, filled with licorice, chocolate and black plum with solid structure and long finish.