Fri 31 Oct 2014
Cakebread Cellars was the first winery I visited on my first trip to Napa Valley, in 1987, covering the Napa Valley Wine Auction. The winery celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, having been founded in 1973 by Jack Cakebread, photographer and owner of Cakebread’s Garage, an auto repair shop in San Francisco started by Leo Cakebread in 1927. I say that Jack Cakebread founded the winery, but his wife Dolores and sons Steve, Bruce and Dennis cannot be left out of even a brief account of the Cakebread history. The company is still family-owned and has grown from its original 22 acres to hundreds of acres with vineyards throughout Napa Valley and a pinot noir outpost in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. Jack Cakebread is CEO, Bruce is president and COO, and Dennis is senior vice president for sales and marketing. Winemaker since 2002 has been Julianne Laks, previously the winery’s assistant winemaker.
The three cabernet sauvignon-based wines from 2012, ’11 and ’10 reviewed in this post are powerful expressions of the grapes and the Napa soil and sub-strata from which they grew. If your ideal notion of cabernet wines is finesse and finely-tuned nuance, the wedding of dynamism and elegance, these are not your models. Winemaker Julianne Laks fully exploits all elements for their deepest dimensions of tannin, oak and mineral-like qualities, building unimpeachable structure, in addition to drawing from wells of sometimes exotic spice and ripe, macerated fruit, the latter requiring a decade to develop completely. While the wines can be daunting initially, there are rewards for those with patience. Cakebread is not a winery that kowtows to fashion. The label is basically unchanged from how it was designed 40 years ago; the style does not lean toward high alcohol, super-ripeness or layers of toasty new oak. Such solidity and sense of tradition may seem staid and stodgy to some consumers, but to my mind they form a gratifying display of dedication and common sense.
These wines were samples for review. The image immediately above shows Bruce, Jack and Dennis Cakebread back in the day, that is, sometime in the 1980s.
The Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, is a blend of 84 percent cabernet sauvignon, six percent each merlot and cabernet franc and four percent petit verdot. This is a valley-wide wine, its components deriving from vineyards throughout the appellation. It aged 18 months in French oak, 54 percent new barrels. The color is deep ruby-red with a magenta rim; a full-blown woodsy bouquet of moss, loam, underbrush and walnut-shell opens to notes of cassis with spiced and macerated blueberries and plums underlain by whiffs of coffee, cedar, tobacco and graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of bell pepper and black olive. The wine fills the mouth with dusty, grainy tannins and polished oak; it’s lithic and granitic, yet possesses inner richness and ripeness; still the mineral, oak and tannic elements preside for the time being. The finish is large, dry, highly structured and rather austere. Twelve hours overnight merely deepened and broadened the wine’s essential framework. 14.3 percent alcohol. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2022 to ’25 or ’26. Excellent potential. About $61.50.
The Cakebread Cellars Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, is 100 percent cabernet grapes, taken from two vineyards in the slopes in the west of the Rutherford AVA; the wine aged 19 months in French oak, 45 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby, though not quite opaque, with a slightly lighter rim; the bouquet is characterized by notes of cedar and rosemary — with a touch of the resinous quality implied — walnut-shell and graham meal, iodine and graphite; some moments of airing reveal hints of tapenade and loam. This is a very dense, chewy wine, with bales of oak and tannin that coat the palate with dusty, front-loaded minerality; it requires considerable swirling of the glass to free the spicy and balsamic-inflected blackberry-blueberry-and-black-cherry scents and flavors. The texture embodies the classic Napa Valley “iron-fist-in-velvet-glove” plushness married to granite and deep earthy tones. Even the next morning, the wine exhibited tannins that should read you your Miranda rights before you imbibe. 13.6 percent alcohol. A bit inchoate now, this will need three to five years to attain balance and integration and then develop through 2025 to ’29 or ’30. Very Good+. Not yet released; prices for previous vintages were about $90 to $110.
The Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, contains six percent cabernet franc and 1 percent merlot in the blend; the vineyards go up to 1,800-foot elevation. The wine aged 19 months in French oak, 39 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby-magenta; if a wine could be described as both monumental and winsomely exotic, this is it. The whole enterprise is intense and concentrated in every detail and dimension, and while the first impression is of utter clarity and freshness, the second impression is laden with deep graphite minerality, iron-like but finely-milled tannins and polished ecclesiastical oak — I mean, think of ancient burnished altars, dusty velvet drapery and incense, the latter notion leading to the wine’s exotic nature in notes of lavender, sandalwood, cloves and black licorice. Still, fruit is a buried stream here; you sense rather than feel the latent intensity of ripeness, though the rich, savory quality is undeniable. Twelve hours later, the tannins formed a bastion that will demand three to five years to soften and admit entrance, drinking then through 2028 to ’30. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. Excellent potential. Unreleased, but previous vintages priced about $100 to $125.