Visiting California's Napa Valley, part 9


The final appointment of my Napa trip was dinner at Cakebread, with Bruce Cakebread (above), who currently heads up his family’s winery. The winery began life in 1973 when Bruce’s father Jack purchased 20 acres from a grower. The original property, where the winery I visited is located, has now grown to 65 acres, and altogether Cakebread farm some 450 acres of vines in the Valley.

‘It’s a family business,’ says Bruce, ‘so everything gets thrown back in. To have great vineyard sites is one of the keys to the long-term family business.’

There are two wineries. An Oakville winery is where all the reds are done, and the original winery (Rutherford), which has been added to over the years, is where the whites are made.

Bruce studied pomology (growing fruit trees) at Cal Poly in San Luis Opisbo before doing a course in Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis. He then came back to the family business, before taking over from his father.

Napa Valley has seen quite a shift in thinking over the years. Now, people are very much focused on the vineyards. ‘Before AXR#1 [the phylloxera crisis in the late 1980s affecting the AXR#1 rootstock] no one was thinking about terroir,’ says Bruce. ‘This forced everyone to think when they replanted. People started looking at soils, planting reds on gravels and whites on clays, for example.’

The Rutherford winery (above) is quite beautiful, with its almost cathedral like vaulted ceiling, and wood construction. It’s redwood on the outside, and fir on the inside. The lighting is currently being replaced with energy efficient LEDs. The cost of replacement is $30 000, but they get a rebate from their energy company.

Cakebread’s production is 175 000 cases, with no second label.


Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc 2005
Rich yet fresh, with melony fruit on the nose. Quite plump. The palate has an attractive minerality under the fruit. Quite stylish, and drinking well now. 88/100 ($24)

Cakebread Chardonnay Reserve 2002 Carneros, Napa Valley
This is from Carneros, and spends 14 months in barrel. Fresh, nuanced and balanced with a hint of toastiness. Nutty and precise with lovely complexity and minerality. Evolving very nicely. 91/100 ($55)

Cakebread Merlot 2005 Napa Valley
Fresh and well defined with dark cherry and blackberry fruit. Fresh, with nice balance of berry fruits and subtle green notes. Smooth with appealing purity. 89/100 ($54)

Cakebread Dancing Bear Ranch 2005 Howell Mountain, Napa Valley
94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, from a vineyard planted in 1999. First crop was 2002. Ripe, sweet, intense dark fruits nose with a spicy, savoury dimension. The palate has some lushness and richness with a lovely warm spiciness. Notes of olives and herbs, too. A bold wine, but still well defined. 92/100 ($100)


Photos from Napa Valley
Part 1, Cain
Part 2, Schramsberg

Part 3, Corison

Part 4, Saintsbury
Part 5, Lagier Meredith
Part 6, Trefethen
Part 7, Trinchero
Part 8, Grgich Hills
Part 9, Cakebread

Wines tasted as 11/09  
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