With today being the anniversary of the Judgment of Paris, where California wines finally beat out the French in a blind tasting, we couldn’t help but think of some of the Napa Valley’s founding families.
From the Barretts of Chateau Montelena, who’s white wine won in Paris, to the Mondavis, the Wagners of Caymus, the Millers of Silverado, and, of course, The Cakebreads.
We had the pleasure of hopping on the phone with Dennis Cakebread, whose parents Jack and Delores started making wine in Napa back in 1973 and their first release was 157 cases of Chardonnay. Today, they consistently lead the list of top-selling restaurant wines around the country.
1. Cakebread Cellars’ wines are on just about very restaurant wine list. Why do you think they are so popular?
Consistency. The key is same people, same vineyards. Winemaker Julianne Laks has been with us for over 30 years. Our Cellar Master for almost 27 years. It adds up. Its like having the same chef in the kitchen all the time. The other big key is having the same vineyards. It lets you learn how [they] want to be grown harvested and irrigated. that’s what makes consistency. Even though always different vintages, because the weather different every year. But at least everything else is consistent over time.
2. Was your family always in the wine business?
My family had an auto repair business that my grandfather started in 1927 in Oakland, CA., but he also farmed almonds. And my Dad always remembered working on the almond orchard and harvesting that crop. So he wanted a ranch to retire to…so he bought 22 acres in Napa back in early 70’s. That’s how he got started in the wine business.[And after a few years,] we started with 157 cases of Chardonnay. It’s an amazing American story – A garage owner who goes and buys a little bit of land – and slowly grows from there. You can imagine my parents pride in what Cakebread Cellars has become.
3. Your Mom wanted to make wine that paired with food. She was really ahead of the curve. How did that happen?
We depended on friends and volunteers [to help us make wine in the early days]. So on Saturdays they came to the property to experience the joys of wine country. And Mom would make lunch. She started out w ham and Swiss and roast beef and cheddar sandwiches. But after a couple of months of that, you realize you have to offer better [to keep the people coming back]. So she really started working on lunches and the food. She took cooking and chef classes. And she became quite accomplished. That helped us retain volunteers back in the years.
And she’s still at it. As a matter of fact for the last two years she has been the Grand Dame of Les Dames d’Escoffie [a philanthropic organization of women leaders in the fields of food, fine beverage and hospitality]. I need to mention that or I’ll lose good son points.
4. What’s next?
I have a new venture in Walla Walla, WA. called Mullan Road Cellars …we want that to keep growing.[My team and I considered expanding to other parts of the world] but Walla Walla turned out to be the right place…primarily because the people were so welcoming…and helpful…we went and tasted a lot of wines of there…there are some great wines up there…we make a Bordeaux blend. We plant Cabernet, Merlot and Cabernet Franc ….they grow well up there…we have been up there since 2012 and feel a lot better about where to go and what to do.
5. What’s your favorite wine and food pairing?
Definitely a good steak paired with Mullan Road Cellars Red Blend.
Tracy Byrnes, former FOX Business Network anchor and host of “Wine with Me” for Foxnews.com, is editor-in-chief and chief contributor of The Sip.
3 Wines from the Cakebreads to Try
Mullan Road Cellars Red Blend 2014
Bordeaux blend from Walla Walla, WA. Rich, thick and savory.
Cakebread Chardonnay 2015
From Napa. Creamy aromas of green and golden apple. Will age.
Cakebread Two Creeks Vineyards Pinot Noir 2015
From Anderson Valley, CA. Rich blackberry, strawberry. Long Finish.