Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cakebread Cellars

Cakebread Cellars is a very well known Napa Valley winery that began in 1972 when the Cakebread family purchased 22 acres in Rutherford.  Jack Cakebread, who studied with Ansel Adams, had come up from Oakland to take photos of Napa Valley and mentioned he would some day like to own a vineyard. When he returned home, he received a phone call from some friends who wanted to sell the property and immediately returned to Rutherford to make an offer. Today they own 13 sites with the newest site being in Anderson Valley.  Of their 982 acres, 460 are planted.  Cakebread wines are very popular and are found frequently in restaurants.  Appointments are required for tastings or tours, and many additional events are held at the winery.  Cakebread Cellars is a very lovely place to visit and provides a delightful setting at which to enjoy their lovely wines.

Cakebread Cellars sign
Unlike most tastings where you stand at a bar or sit at a table, at Cakebread Cellars you begin your tasting at the entry and then join a small group to walk from table to table in the lovely courtyard where a different wine is available at each table.  Our host, Bob, was very amiable and informative.

Front entry

Our first sample was the Cakebread Cellars 2011 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  It had a very pronounced and lovely aroma of melon.  Smooth and well balanced on the palate, it was mostly grapefruit, melon and citrus.  It had good crispness but the acid was not at all pronounced, making this SB less austere than some and quite drinkable without food.  It also had a good finish.  At only $24, this is one of the better Napa Valley Sauvignon Blancs and a very good deal.  The Cakebread 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay sells for $37.  It does not receive any malolactic conversion and spends eight months on French oak.  After a fairly light melon nose, the wines presents itself on the palate as a full bodied Chardonnay, mostly melon and apple,  that is well balanced with none of the excessive butter or oak that some Chards receive at other wineries. It was very pleasant. This was followed by the Cakebread Reserve 2009 Chardonnay from Carneros at $55.  The Reserve had a more pronounced and complex aroma of apple, citrus and minerals.  It too was full bodied with a very nice mouth feel but a creamier texture with more minerality. This, again, sees no malolactic conversion and is in French oak for 15 months. Both Chards were quite good, but the creamy mouthfeel and minerality of the Reserve won me over. Either Chard should pair really well with food and would be great choices at a restaurant.

Courtyard with tasting tables

Our red wines began with the pleasant 2009 Cakebread Napa Valley Merlot which sells for $54.  After some cherry on the nose, it presented with the lush fruit that one expects in a good Merlot but was better structured than many Merlots, with well-integrated tannins.  It is both fresh and lush with mostly black cherry and ripe plum.  It is very drinkable now.  The Cakebread 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at $60 was next, and it was a very good Cab that is extremely drinkable now.  In addition to the Cab, it has 7% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec.  It sees 20 months in French oak, with 42% of this in new oak.  With some cherry on the nose and black cherry on the palate, the wine is very well balanced with plenty of sumptuous fruit but good interlaced tannins and structure.  I’m sure it will improve somewhat with age, but this Cab is very pleasantly drinkable right now. After sampling this Cab, I thought the final tasting, the Cakebread 2009 Napa Valley Syrah at $55, would be anticlimactic, but this was not the case.  We both enjoyed this wonderful Syrah as much as the Cab. The color is gorgeous.  Be sure to hold this one up to the light. Although this is a lush Syrah, it is not excessively fruit forward, as are some Syrahs.  I got a lot of ripe blackberry on the palate with good tannins with only minimal spice and no black pepper. The finish is quite nice.  We both really liked this Syrah.  Again, it will age but is very drinkable now.  Each of the Cakebread varietals we tasted avoided any extremes, seemed very food friendly and was solid, well-crafted wine that will not need to be cellared.  I kept thinking what great choices they would make in a restaurant, being very nice, highly drinkable now and avoiding extremes. I would love to have tried the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, the Vinehill Cab and the Howell Mountain Cab but these were not part of our tasting.

One of the tasting tables

Cakebread Cellars
8300 St. Helena Highway
Rutherford, CA 94573
Date of visit: September 12, 2012

One of the gardens

Greeting table in tasting room

Tasting table in vineyard
Entrance to tasting room


  1. TJ,

    Nice write-up. It looks like a beautiful property. I didn't know that Cakebread made a Pinot or Syrah.


    1. Hi Nick, Thanks. Yes, the Pinot if from their newest vineyard in Anderson Valley and I usually really like Pinots from there so want to try it soon. Cheers, TJ

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks. It's a retty winery, especially this time of the year. Cheers, TJ


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