Most of the wineries we write about are family owned, small-production ventures. Last Sunday we went to Cakebread Cellars, one of the Valley’s most established wineries and one that by no measure would be considered “small production.” Annually, Cakebread produces over 150,000 cases of wine, which translates to nearly 2 million bottles. Clearly, Cakebread is no “hidden gem” – they have been around since 1973 and recently celebrated their 40th harvest.
Despite their longevity and production scale, Cakebread retains many of the attributes that attract us to wineries: family owned (in its second generation of family management); a commitment to sustainable farming; respect for varietals and the terroir in which they are grown; and an honest appreciation for their customers. All of these were evident during our recent visit, tour and tasting.
The first surprising thing about Cakebread was the tasting price we were quoted over the phone: $15. This is not a typical tasting fee in Napa Valley; when you see a fee this low, the expectation is that they will pour 3 wines, 4 at the most. Our Cakebread tasting included six different wines and they let us take our wine glasses home with us!
We started with a glass of the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc and commenced a tour of the winery, led by the charming, knowledgeable and energetic Una, a transplant from Scotland. Wine glasses in hand, we headed out to the Cakebread vineyards directly in front of the tasting room.
We sampled some of these delicious Chardonnay grapes which are very sweet and ready to be harvested in the next few weeks.
We worked our way along the vineyards, stopping to sample a berry (or two) of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Merlot grapes were larger and sweeter than the Cab grapes, the latter of which will not be harvested until late September or even early October.
After we finished the Sauvignon Blanc, Una poured us a glass of the 2015 Cakebread Chardonnay and led us on a tour through the Cakebread vegetable garden. This tour left us with a severe case of “garden envy” as Cakebread is growing – successfully, we must add – dozens of different types of vegetables. We were most impressed with the height of their corn stalks,which would be the envy of any farmer in Iowa.
After the humbling garden tour we stopped at a bar station outside to get down to the serious business of trying more Cakebread wines.
In Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon is the flagship wine for many wineries; at Cakebread, the flagship wine is Chardonnay. We tasted two – the 2015 Napa Valley Chardonnay, produced mostly from grapes grown in the Carneros region; and the 2015 Reserve Chardonnay. Our tasting also included Cakebread’s 2014 Pinot Noir from Two Creeks Vineyard in Anderson Valley, the 2013 Guajolote (red blend), and a 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon. Julianne Laks, Cakebread’s winemaker, strives to make wines with balance and this was evident across the six wines we tasted.
With a glass of Cab in hand, we finished our visit to Cakebread with a tour of the winery operation.
Despite Cakebread’s size and scale, our experience there felt very personal and we attribute this to the legacy of founders Jack and Dolores Cakebread and the fact that their two sons still run the business. Yes, they are one of Napa Valley’s biggest producers of wine. But they work very hard to maintain the feeling of a family winery. After all, their family name is on very bottle.
John & Irene Ingersoll
August 20, 2017