Golfers, sailors, and fly-fisherman may already be familiar with Napa Valley winemaker Dennis Cakebread, but if not, they’re going to find an immediate affinity. Cakebread hosts his own regattas in Newport, Rhode Island and San Diego Bay, as well as hosts golf tournaments, takes fisherman to lodges in Idaho and Montana, and always tops off the experience with his signature wines. “Wine is fun,” he said. “When have you enjoyed wine the most? With good friends and a good dinner, especially after having fun outdoors!”
In fact, Cakebread Cellars invites devotees to submit photos of themselves having fun with their Cakebread wines for an annual contest. Skinny dipping at the beach with a bottle of Cakebread took the prize one year; surfing and fishing have also been winners. The 2011 top prize went to a military helicopter pilot who is shown standing in front of his chopper, hanging onto a bottle of Cakebread Chardonnay after his final flight.
Cakebread Cellars was an early entrant in Napa Valley wine production. Dennis’ father, Jack Cakebread, was an accomplished photographer who trained under Ansel Adams. He originally came up to Napa some 30 years ago to capture the beauty of the landscape for a wine book. His family owned peach and almond orchards, but on this trip he found his calling in grapes. With the $1,500 advance from the photography assignment, he put a down payment on a friend’s ranch and became a grape farmer. Today the family business is one of Napa’s most beloved. Jack still reigns as CEO, son Bruce is COO and President, and son Dennis is Senior VP of Sales and Marketing.
Since the first vintage, a 1973 Chardonnay, the family winery has become renowned for its Chardonnays. Yet the winery has great breadth: one of the top selling wines of 2011 was Cakebread’s 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. The family also produces the Dancing Bear Ranch and Vine Hill Ranch labels, appreciated for their Cabernet Sauvignon as well. Today Cakebread wines include pinot noir, syrah, merlot, sauvignon blanc, zinfandel, a rosé they call Vin de Porche, and a light red wine blend they named Rubaiyat after the famous poem “Rubáiyát” by Omar Khayyám. Cakebread wines are exported to 21 countries.
The high quality of Cakebread wines can be attributed to the winery’s finely honed mix of old world and modern technology. Cakebread’s viticulturist measures ground moisture using a subterranean neutron probe, and then ages the wine in French oak casks. A secret of the remarkable Chardonnay is whole cluster pressing, not used by many wineries. The juice is carefully extracted without crushing the grape, and only the juice is fermented.
Another unique aspect of Cakebread is its emphasis on food, and food and wine pairings. In fact it’s one of the only vineyards in Napa offering a “wine & food pairing experience” as one of its public tours. That’s thanks to Delores Cakebread, the matriarch of the family, who serves as VP of Ambience and Culinary, and oversees her organic kitchen garden. For 25 years, the winery has hosted American Harvest Workshops in September, bringing together five up-and-coming chefs, local farmers and Cakebread winemakers. For a peek at the fun, mouth-watering recipes from the chefs – many of whom have become quite famous – and guidelines for wine pairings, take a look at Cakebread Cellars American Harvest Cookbook, by Jack and Delores Cakebread and Jack Streeter, Culinary Director.