Over 39 years ago, Jack Cakebread came to photograph the Napa Valley for a book and while here, he casually mentioned his interest in one day owning a vineyard to some family friends who had a ranch in Rutherford. When he returned home that afternoon, the phone rang and it was the family friends offering to sell their property. He headed back up to the valley that same afternoon to make his best offer, and Cakebread Cellars was born.
As the Cakebread family reflects upon the many profound changes in the wine industry over the last 38 years, such as innovative farming techniques and new methods of reaching out to consumers, they note that their key values have remained the same. Dedication to making the highest quality wines and a commitment to family has followed a continuum as their first small vineyard has grown into a thriving internationally distributed wine company.
Their first vintage--157 cases of 1973 Chardonnay--was sold to Phil Faight of Groezinger's Wine Shop in Yountville. He in turn sold to a small audience of premium wine drinkers who primarily drove up from the Bay Area on weekends to visit the country. "Two or three cars an hour would be on the road and we would all stop and look to see who was coming," said Jack as he thought of his original neighbors who became some of the "legends of the wine industry - Mondavi, Martini, Heitz, BV's Tchelistcheff and Christian Brothers "Brother Tim." Today, traffic is about 30 cars-a-minute as the world comes to visit the Napa Valley wine country.
"When we first got started, I would prepare lunches at home to offer to visitors who came to our ranch, " Jack's wife Dolores explained. "We would ask friends and wine trade guests to bring old clothes and boots and we'd put them to work before we all gathered in the shade to share a glass or two of wine and some food." Today, thousands of visitors each year are treated to wine tasting and if desired, a tour of the garden, vineyards, kitchens and state-of-the-art winemaking facility.
What has changed in the sales environment of the wine industry? Dennis Cakebread, Director of Sales has noticed that, "there is less talk about technical facts, like the percentage of malo-lactic or the length of time in oak, and more interest in personal anecdotes about enjoying a bottle of wine."
"We believe wine is fun, so we do fun things" said Dennis, just before leaving to go ice fishing with trade associates and consumers in Chicago. Dennis created the "Good Life Series" to build memories with consumers and give them an opportunity to appreciate healthy food and great wine with some of their favorite pastimes.
Cakebread Cellars has been at the forefront of the American healthy-eating movement since the early 1980's. "We realized that if we wanted to live to see the business grow, we'd have to eat healthier," Dolores joked. In addition to overseeing hospitality and her famous organic kitchen garden, Dolores is responsible for Cakebread Cellars' "American Harvest Workshop" - an annual four-day seminar where top chefs from around the country interact with the winemaker, local farm purveyors and media representatives to discuss wine, food and a healthy lifestyle.
Culinary Director, Brian Streeter, who assists Dolores with the workshop, observes that since the program began in 1986, there is "more of a focus on wine as an important part of the meal with an interest in creating finer dining for customers, chefs include wine selection in the menu-planning dialogue," Brian says. "They are also more interested in buying fresh foods from local farmstead and cottage producers than in previous years."
The most dramatic changes and extraordinary improvements in the wine business are found in the vineyard and winery. "Years ago, the vines would get one long drink in the spring which was believed to be enough until harvest," Bruce Cakebread, President and COO at Cakebread Cellars, said. "Today, Cakebread Cellars uses a neutron-probe irrigation system which allows us to accurately measure how much water specific vines are using and how much watering is needed to grow better grapes."
"In early years at harvest, we brought all the fruit in, de-stemmed and crushed it and put the wine in barrels as a matter of routine. The only variations were for red or white grapes," Bruce remembered. "Today, we have 'game plans' for each block in every vineyard which are written during the summer, so we're ready for harvest." A game plan includes how to press (de-stem or whole-cluster), fermentation instructions and which barrels to use (different oak and toast) - all based on data from previous vintages and reflecting the current growing season. "We don't repeat undesirable combinations and the entire crew knows ahead of time what the game plan is so we get the best we can from the fruit."
This increase in sophistication and knowledge in winemaking has given Cakebread Cellars the opportunity to offer a broader selection of wines to their customers. In addition to a diverse selection of new varietals available at the winery, two new wines have been released that demonstrates the difference between vineyards located in the Eastern and Western slopes of the Napa Valley. Both are Cabernet Sauvignons that represent the distinctive terroir of the opposing sides of the valley.
One thing that hasn't changed in over thirty years is the family-members' participation in all activities when it comes to growing, making or promoting their wine. "We didn't know we were going to build a winery," said Jack. "There was no strategic business plan like you have today. We just believed in our heart-of-hearts that it would work to bring our family here." Today, a team of four Cakebreads leads Cakebread Cellars into the new millennium with a positive and enthusiastic outlook.
As the wine industry has grown, anti-wine and anti-alcohol activists have effected changes in regulations imposed on wine producers, like warnings required on bottle labels. Continued education about the benefits of moderate daily wine drinking balances negative messages, however, and Cakebread Cellars remains among the forerunners who continue to promote California wine and locally grown foods for a healthy lifestyle. "The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) included wine in their official "Diet Guidelines" Dennis Cakebread noted.
"When people have a wonderful experience with food made better with wine, they appreciate it and don’t really know why, they just know they love it," Dolores has witnessed over the years. "In some ways we could say nothing has changed, only enhanced."
"When we started out, we made a barrel and we sold a barrel. We made two barrels and sold two barrels," Jack stated. "We are very grateful for our ability to sell the wines we make to such supportive customers."
In spite of their ability to transform with the times in all aspects of the winery business and their continued success, they are still asked daily where the name of the winery comes from. The family forebears were bakers in England, primarily of a dense round loaf called a cakebrede.
Cakebread Cellars has vineyard properties located throughout Napa Valley and recently added a location in the Anderson Valley . The winery ranches surrounding the production facility in Rutherford are where it all began. The first 22 acre parcel was purchased in 1972. Over the years, the family has continued to acquire additional vineyard parcels throughout Napa Valley and the North Coast. Today, the winery owns 13 sites totaling 982 acres, 460 of which are currently planted. This judicious acquisition and development of vineyard land enables us to more completely control the quality of the fruit we grow and the wines we make.
Cakebread Cellars' winemaker, Julianne Laks, has sniffed, smelled and tasted her way through more wines than she can count during her 25 plus-year career in the wine industry. Fortunately for us, the last 20 of those years have been at Cakebread Cellars, first as an enologist and later as assistant winemaker under head winemaker, Bruce Cakebread. Julianne was promoted to winemaker when Bruce Cakebread, took the reins from his father as president of the winery in 2002.
Julianne's winemaking skill, artistic passion and intimate understanding of our vineyards are just a few of the reasons Julianne was chosen to follow in Bruce's footsteps. Her promotion marked a milestone for Cakebread Cellars; she is the third winemaker in Cakebread Cellars' history, and is the first non-family member to hold the position. Her favorite part of the job, she says, is harvest. "Because I've worked with these vineyards for such a long time, it's like seeing old friends when the grapes come in. My job is to give them the best possible reception when they arrive at the winery."
We're delighted that you are interested in visiting our family owned winery. Each day we offer a variety of tastings and one daily tour to give you an inside look on how we craft our fine wine.
All of our tastings and tours are by appointment. They are conducted in various venues around the winery—in barrel rooms, in the fermentation room and occasionally alongside the vineyard or on a patio when production schedule and weather permits. Please be prepared to walk through our working winery and dress warmly in case your tasting is in our cellar. Most tastings are conducted while standing, some are held in seated venues. Please call ahead to make an appointment; weekends and holidays book quickly, up to several days in advance.