by Fred McMillin
for December 12, 1997

Winery of the Week

Highbred Cakebread

Prologue: "The first Napa Valley wine I ever tasted from barrel was at Cakebread Cellars in 1979; it was a young Howell Mountain Zinfandel, and the sheer unbridled power of the wine remains vivid in my memory." ...visiting Australian wine authority James Halliday in his magnificent "Wine Atlas of California."

The Rest of the Story: Eighteen years later, Cakebread Howell Mountain Zinfandel has more of that memorable "sheer unbridled power" than ever. with a robust 15.3% alcohol content explosive berry-spice flavors, the new '94 blew the sox off my panel. Who made that 1979, and the 1994?

The Winemakers: Jack Cakebread made the first wines when he and wife Dolores founded their small Napa Valley winery in 1973. Meanwhile; son Bruce was studying at U.C.-Davis and came home with his enology degree in 1977. Critic Anthony Dias Blue tasted Bruce's wines a few years later and concluded he had "learned his lessons very well." So, father and son had made the 1979 and Bruce alone the 1994.

As Bruce got rolling as the sole winemaker, he had much success with three other varietals.

Sauvignon Blanc: Roy Andries De Groot listed the Blanc first in his 1982 recommended Cakebread wines. Bruce feels the central Napa Valley location is ideal for this variety and that quality continues to improve. (Unlike Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc does not do well in the southern, cooler end of the Napa Valley.)

Chardonnay: Mr. Blue gave the '82 three stars, noting that it was Bruce's best to date. Since then, grape sourcing has moved to the south end of the valley, and my panel gives the wine even higher marks.

Cabernet Sauvignon: There's no better place to grow this varietal in America than the central Napa Valley. So, it's no suprise that even the 1978 was praised as "massively concentrated" by author James Laube. De Groot praised the early 1980 vintages from "one of the best microclimates on the floor of the Napa Valley." Today the Cakebread 75 acres of vines includes 50 of Cabernet. They augment it with Stags Leap grapes. The combination produces the Cakebread's flagship wine...a full-bodied, black cherry classic Napa Valley Cab. The '94 is a $27 treat.

Just the Facts

Name   Cakebread Cellars
Founded   1973
Location   Rutherford Va1ley, Napa Valley
Contact   Sara Cakebread, (707)963-7443

Postscript: About the name, Elizabeth David writes of Irish cake bread, a country where "soda bread is called a 'cake of bread,' made at home where it seems more like a cake than bread in texture and the way it cuts."

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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