Marla Cimini on September 8, 2016 0 Comments Photo Courtesy of Cakebread Cellars Most wine enthusiasts are familiar with the name, Cakebread Cellars, an award-winning Napa Valley winery. With its bottles sold throughout the United States and the world, the name is synonymous with the finest wines produced in California. With a long history in the area, the Cakebread family settled in the Napa Valley area well before it was known as the prestigious winegrowing region it is today. Established in 1973 by Jack and Delores Cakebread, it was the 39th officially bonded winery in the area (currently there are more than 400). Today, the winery is still family run, with sons Bruce Cakebread (president and COO) and Dennis Cakebread (senior vice president of sales and marketing) intimately involved in running the organization. Over the years, Cakebread has grown tremendously and has developed land in select California winegrowing regions. The family now has prime vineyards in 13 different sites (all but one is in Napa Valley). These include vineyards on Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain; Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley; Napa’s Carneros region; as well as in Suscol Springs (southeastern Napa Valley). In addition to the stellar reputation of the wines they produce, Cakebread Cellars is also known for their dedicated employee base – including the company’s winemaker, Julianne Laks, who has been with the winery for the past 30 years. On a recent visit to Cakebread, Julianne provided a private tour of the winery and a special tasting. She also took the time from her busy schedule (during the 2016 harvest season!) to answers some questions about Cakebread wines and celebrating her 30th anniversary with the company. Photo Courtesy of Cakebread Cellars Why did you decide to become a winemaker? My family put down roots in the Napa Valley years ago, when my father took a position as winery engineer with Robert Mondavi Winery. At the time, I was just starting college and majoring in chemistry. During the spring and summer breaks from school, I worked at several wineries in their labs, where I was privileged to meet and work with some of the most talented winemakers. During that time, I found a wonderful mix of science, intellectual curiosity and artistic vision. I fell in love with the wine industry, and transferred to UC Davis to earn a degree in Fermentation Science. I then returned to start my career in Napa Valley. What are the best-selling wines at Cakebread cellars — and why do you think that is? Cakebread Cellars began with producing only a small amount of chardonnay, which founder Jack Cakebread personally sold to one store in Napa Valley. This was the foundation of the winery, and continues to be our bestselling wine. We’ve finessed the chardonnay to be a well-balanced and an ideal pairing wine; it continues to be our flagship varietal. Our cabernet sauvignon also does extremely well. The grape grows so beautifully in Napa, allowing us to craft something truly special and unique to the terroir. What is your own favorite Cakebread wine, and why? Our Dancing Bear red is very special to me. I was there for the development of the vineyard, and had the opportunity to learn about vineyard design and development phases for a mountain site. It was a complex plan…given the uniqueness of the site, soil types, topography and geology. I was involved with the selection of grape variety, clone and block layouts. As the vines developed, we found that a true sense of origin and terroir came through the wines. Congratulations on celebrating your 30th anniversary at Cakebread! What have been the highlights of your last 30 years? During my 30 years, I’ve truly enjoyed working with the Cakebread family and sharing their vision of excellence and commitment to quality, consistency and continuity. Today, there are a number of female winemakers in the industry. But what was it like being a female winemaker 30 years ago? When I graduated from UC Davis, the wine industry was certainly male dominated. But with time, more and more women entered the wine and viticulture segments of the wine industry. Women have become highly recognized for their collaborative efforts as winemakers and winegrowers to ensure the highest quality ultra-premium wines. Please share your most memorable vintage at Cakebread. As far as vintages go, the 1997 vintage was one of the most memorable moments in my history at Cakebread. It was a significant marker in the evolution of our chardonnay because we began to change the process of picking and crushing grapes — and in 1997, we began ‘whole-cluster pressing,’ where we gently pressed the whole clusters of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc grapes. This allows the juice to not pick up skin tannin, so that the natural grape acidity is retained. It dramatically improved the quality of our white wines. Today, we actually have an area at the winery dedicated strictly to white wine production. How did this work? After trials of making chardonnay from de-stemmed and crushed white fruit and making wine from whole cluster pressed white fruit, (aging them separately for the same amount of time in barrel; then bottling them separately and aging them for one year in the bottle), we found both wines exhibited excellent quality. However, we discovered that the chardonnay made from whole-cluster-pressed fruit was brighter and fresher. We took this as evidence that we could extend the aging potential of our white wines with this change in handling the fruit. Photo Courtesy of Cakebread Cellars How important is sustainability to Cakebread Cellars? Sustainability is not a new trend for Cakebread Cellars, as we have been engaged in sustainable and environmentally sound practices for a long time. But we are always reviewing our current practices to identify where improvement can be made and develop plans to increase sustainability throughout our operations. Currently, we are focused on water conservation in wine production. What do you think impresses customers the most when they visit your winery? I think the level of hands-on, traditional winemaking techniques — blended with the state of the art equipment and technology — impresses and surprises most people. We love to educate our visitors and it’s great when they have the unique opportunity to see how our process works in person. Which wines do you recommend for a holiday dinner? I love Cakebread Cellars’ Two Creeks pinot noir from Anderson Valley. It is bright and fruit filled — with a beautiful velvety texture. I think it’s just the perfect wine to pair with holiday menus. What advice do you like to share with wine enthusiasts — and people who wish to enhance their knowledge of wine overall? A fun-filled and educational way to learn about wine and sharpen your tasting skills is to join a group of friends to taste wines on a regular basis. Designate one person each time to choose a theme (such as wines from a specific region), select the wines and do a little research on each wine. It is a great way to enhance your knowledge of wine varieties and appellations. Any future plans for the winery that you can share? In 2015, we invested in a small concrete egg-shaped tank and fermented sauvignon blanc — as well as aged the wine in it. We liked how the concrete gave the wine more texture and depth, rounding the body and softening the acidity. In the near future, we are planning to expand the EGG program with a room full of them! So stay tuned! Currently, there are twenty different wines available at Cakebread Cellars and the winery welcomes visitors to taste the varietals on site. (Tours must be reserved in advance). To learn more about Cakebread Cellars or schedule a tour, please visit their website.