Rutherford, CA, 1998 -- Jack Cakebread came to photograph the Napa Valley twenty-five years ago for a book and while he was here, he casually mentioned his interest in 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 and Cakebread Cellarsand Winery was born.
On the occasion of their silver anniversary, the Cakebread family is reflecting upon profound changes in the wine industry over the past twenty-five years. Although there are innovative improvements in grape growing, a new winery, new wines and new ways of reaching consumers, the key values have not changed at Cakebread Cellarsand Winery. Dedication to making the highest quality wines and a commitment to family has followed a continuum as the small vineyard grew into a thriving internationally distributed wine company.
Their first vintage--157 cases of 1973 Cakebread Cellars 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.
A Move Toward a Healthy Lifestyle
"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 at Cakebread Cellarsand Winery 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 Winery and Cellars and 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 Winery and 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.
Karen Cakebread, 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," Karen says. "They are also more interested in buying fresh foods from local farmstead and cottage producers than in previous years."
The Evolution of Wine Production
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, Winemaker at Cakebread Winery and Cellars, said. "Today, Cakebread Winery and 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 Winery and 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 Cakebread CellarsCabernet Sauvignons that represent the distinctive terrior of the opposing sides of the valley.
Looking to the Future
One thing that hasn't changed in twenty-five 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 seven Cakebreads leads Cakebread Cellarsand Winery 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 Cellarsremains among the forerunners who continue to promote California wine and locally grown foods for a healthy lifestyle. "The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently 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 cakebread.
Cakebread Cellars 2003 Sauvignon Blanc
“Rated 88 - Brilliant straw hue. Melon, grass and dried flower aromas. Medium-full, this has good weight on the palate with some oak and an earthy finish with nice persistence of fruit.” – Beverage Testing Institute 4/1/04
Cakebread winery 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon
"Rated 89 - Combines rich chocolaty currant, cedar, anise and minerally flavors with a sense of elegance and finesse. Not as opulent as the Benchland Select bottling, but still deftly balanced, with fine-grained tannins. Drink now through 2008. 800 cases made." - Wine Spectator
Cakebread Cellar 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon
"Rated 88 - Supple and harmonious, with a graceful core of spicy black cherry, plum and wild berry fruit that's delicately balanced, finishing with smooth, fine-grained tannins. Drink now through 2012." - Wine Spectator