Cakebread – a great Napa winery

Wine makers and winery owners are usually engaging and interesting people and I have been fortunate enough to meet quite a few in my career. However one of the most agreeable and charming I have ever met is Bruce Cakebread, President and C.O.O. of Cakebread Cellars – the winery that bears his family name.

I was thrilled to meet him in Napa last year, I have always loved Cakebread wines, so a it was great to put a personality and a face to the wine. Bruce not only runs the family winery, but is also president of the board of directors for the Napa Valley Vintners.

Bruce Cakebread

I have been lucky enough to bump into him a couple of times since then and his wines always impress me with their finesse and elegance, so I thought it was about time that I told you a little about them.

First off the name is very unusual, I had assumed that it was anglicised German or something – not a bit of it, Cakebread is actually one of the oldest English surnames. Apparently of Norse-Viking and Olde English pre 9th century origins, it derives from the Norse ‘kaka’ meaning cake and the English ‘brede’, which is seemingly a baker of dainty cakes and loaves in medieval times – these were made from especially fine, sweet flour called ‘cakebread’. So, you see the finer things of life are right there in Bruce’s genes.

The winery is on the border between the Oakville and Rutherford district AVAs and was created by Bruce’s father, Jack, who bought the 22 acre estate in 1972. The few vines on the land were either unidentified, pretty obscure or strange varieties that are no longer widely used – Sauvignon Vert, Malvasia and Early Burgundy (aka Abouriou). Jack wanted to produce quality wine, so had to start a complete replanting programme.

The first release was 157 cases of 1973 Chardonnay, which like the 1974 Cabernet Sauvignon was made from bought in grapes. It was not until 1976 that the estate produced a small harvest of their own Sauvignon Blanc grapes.


Napa Valley map - click for a larger view

Today Cakebread Cellars own 75 acres near the winery in the Rutherford AVA, as well as the wonderfully named Dancing Bear Ranch in Howell Mountain. In addition they either control or manage a further 400 acres of vineyard. Roughly half of this is in the cool Carneros AVA – the main source of their Chardonnay – while the rest is split between Sauvignon Blanc and red varieties in Stag’s Leap District AVA, Rutherford and Oakville.

The UK consumer can often be a little wary of Napa Valley wines, believing them to be over-hyped and over-extracted, but these are exciting, full of flavour, balanced and elegant. Above all Bruce’s passion and that of his wine maker – Julianne Laks – really shines through.

2008 Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc
Napa Valley

90% Sauvignon Blanc, 6% Sémillon, 4% Sauvignon Musque – an especially aromatic clone.
18% was French barrel fermented & 85% was aged 5 months in French Oak.

Rich, brooding nose with an underlying creaminess and a little touch of exotic and aromatic fruit.
Soft, textured and creamy with some rich citrus and a leafy herby character.This is a big, textured Sauvignon supported by just enough acidity and freshness to balance the richness and the delicate toasty oak notes. A beautifully concentrated wine that puts me in mind of great white Bordeaux rather than any other take on Sauvignon Blanc – 91/100 points.

2009 Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay
Napa Valley – Carneros and Oak Knoll fruit.
Fermentation was 86% in French Oak & 14% in stainless steel. The wine was Barrel-aged for 8 months in French oak, 35% new, with lees stirring.

White peach, delicate spice and toast notes.
The palate is ripe with a peach-like texture and succulence. It is all very stylish and gentle with a nice seam of fresh, yet soft, apricot acidity.
Lovely fragrant finish with elegance and finesse which builds on the senses, making it very long yet delicate – 90/100 points.

2007 Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay Reserve
Carneros Napa Valley
Fermented in 100% French Oak barrels – 32% new and Barrel-aged for 15 months in the same barrels on the lees with lees strirring.

Delicate aromas with more toasty oak notes, cloves and Ginger spice too.
The palate was lovely and clean with bright balanced acidity, richly textured, ripe,  nectarine fruit. The oak is quite powerful and toasty, but well integrated and elegant at the same time.
Good acidity and freshness balancing the richness leaving long flavours of pear, peach and toasty spice – 92/100 points.


Looking west from St Helena towards the Mayacamas Mountains

That all important Napa fog

2006 Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley
78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec – aged 20 months in French oak – 35% new.

Lovely nose of aromatic red and black fruit with a touch of oak spice, quite fresh and subtly lifted aromas.
Medium bodied and fresh with juicy plum and cassis fruit together with rich toasty spicy oak giving hints of coffee and clove.

Juicy texture with rich black fruit, especially cassis, as well as some cherry notes creeping in giving it acidity and keeping it fresh and lively.  The finish is rich with supple fruit and savoury spices.
Very long and balanced with elegance and structure, needs 5 years or so for the oak to fully integrate though – 92/100 points.

2006 Cakebread Cellars Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley
100% Cabernet Sauvignon – 63% from Oakville District with 37%  from Rutherford District  – 2 vineyards on the ‘bench’ that gently slopes west from the Mayacamsas mountains.
Barrel aged 21 months in French Oak – 47% new.

Deep colour, but not opaque, deep red.
Intense fresh nose, full of black fruit and gentle spice together with warmer development notes of coffee and dried fruit.
Beautifully textured palate – creamy ripe and rich, bursting with red cherry as well as deeper, black plums and cassis fruit, supported by rich spicy toasty oak and real finesse. Even with all that richness there is freshness and acidity. It is till very youthful, but absolutely gorgeous and superbly balanced.
Long, concentrated and intensely flavored, the finish is stunning and epically long, possibly the longest finish I have ever experienced – 96/100 points.

I was seriously impressed by these wines, as I have been every time I have tried them – they give a real insight into the best that Napa and California have to offer, so give them a try if you can, if only to offset the mental picture of Gallo, Blossom Hill and Paul Masson that so many of us Brits have. Cakebread wines are available in the UK from Corney & Barrow.

5 thoughts on “Cakebread – a great Napa winery

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