2023 marks Cakebread Cellars’ 50th anniversary, cementing the winery’s status as one of Napa Valley’s quintessential estates. The winery was founded in 1973 by Jack and Dolores Cakebread with the launch of their first vintage of Chardonnay, which remains a staple of the brand. Upon the passing of Jack Cakebread last year, his sons Bruce and Dennis took over the winery’s operations, continuing the legacy of this family-run estate.
Over the past 50 years, Cakebread Cellars has expanded its production from Chardonnay to other classic Napa Valley wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as other less common varieties like Grenache and Syrah. With its gradual growth, Cakebread has acquired vineyards in several California regions including Anderson Valley and Carneros, and now works with 14 vineyards. Here are nine things you should know about Cakebread to keep in mind next time you enjoy a glass.
Jack Cakebread’s passion for photography led to his wine career.
Prior to founding Cakebread Cellars, Jack Cakebread worked at his father’s car repair business while studying photography on the side. This passion led Jack to study under renowned photographer Ansel Adams. He was also selected to photograph Napa Valley for Nathan Chorman’s beloved coffee table book “The Treasury of American Wines.” While shooting for this project, Jack’s interest was piqued by the Sturdivant Ranch in Rutherford. He bought the 22-acre property with his $2,500 photography commission, and this marked the beginning of Cakebread Cellars.
Dolores Cakebread’s passion for food inspired the winery’s award-winning culinary program.
Co-founder Delores Cakebread used her enthusiasm for fine cuisine to start the winery’s esteemed culinary division. What started as a way to feed the volunteers helping out around the newly launched winery became a full-fledged culinary program, which was even honored with the Grand Dame Award from Les Dames d’Escoffier. Now, the winery’s kitchen still offers incredible food and wine pairing experiences, as well as private cooking classes. Guests who book Cakebread Cellars’ Wine & Food Tasting start the event off with a tour of the Cakebread Estate Garden that Dolores had planted and maintained before her passing in 2020. The chefs incorporate ingredients from the garden in the tasting’s thoughtfully prepared dishes to carry on her legacy.
Drinkers can toast Cakebread Cellars’ 50th anniversary with some specialty Chardonnay.
To celebrate the milestone, the winery is going back to its roots with a special collection of Chardonnay, the first variety to be bottled at the estate. The 50th Anniversary Chardonnay Collection includes several single- vineyard Chardonnays, and each label features a photograph taken by Jack Cakebread himself. The winery is also allowing customers to sign up for the exclusive opportunity to buy limited-edition library releases.
The winery hosts an annual photo contest.
In the spirit of Cakebread’s rich history of photography, the winery hosts an annual photo contest for fans of Cakebread to share pictures of their Cakebread wines in the wild. Past winning submissions have included a photo of Cakebread’s Pinot Noir overlooking the Grand Canyon, as well as an image of a Cakebread enthusiast surfing while holding a bottle. Each year, the winner gets their name engraved on the photo contest trophy on display at the winery, and is given a smaller engraved trophy to keep.
The winery is continuing to expand.
While the historic Cakebread Cellars family estate is situated in Napa Valley, the winery has acquired several additional vineyards in nearby and emerging regions over time including sites in Carneros and Anderson Valley. Additionally, Cakebread has expanded with two sister wineries including Bezel Wines, an affordable, everyday option based on California’s Central Coast and Mullan Road Cellars in Washington State.
Cakebread recently appointed a new winemaker.
On April 17, 2023, Cakebread Cellars announced Niki Williams as its new winemaker — only the fifth in the company’s 50-year history. Williams has an impressive background of winemaking experience at prestigious wineries such as the Prisoner Wine Company, Château St. Jean, and Merryvale. Cakebread Cellars has a strong history of women in leadership beginning with Dolores Cakebread, and this spirit still exists at the winery today: Niki Williams joins fellow leaders Jane Dunkley and Sally Johnson Blum, who work at Bezel and Mullan Road, respectively.
The property offers an array of different tasting experiences.
At its Napa Valley location, Cakebread Cellars offers a variety of tastings that suit each guest’s individual needs and curiosities, including seated tastings, tours, and private group events. Seated experiences range from library tastings of back vintages, Cabernet-focused tastings for Cab lovers, and food and wine pairings from the estate’s esteemed culinary team. Alternatively, visitors can also book the more straightforward Classic tour or the Sustainable Wines and Vines tour.
Cakebread Cellars is a friend to local bees and fish.
“Quality and sustainability have been Cakebread cornerstones since our first vintage in 1973,” says Bruce Cakebread on the brand’s website. “We’re a family winery, and we want to protect the land for future generations.” The winery’s efforts in sustainability have been recognized by several organizations: Cakebread Cellars is Bee Friendly Farming Certified and Fish Friendly Farming Certified, and it is also a Napa Green Certified Winery.
The estate’s Dancing Bear Ranch wine is named for, well, dancing bears.
Cakebread’s Dancing Bear Ranch is located on the slopes of Howell Mountain in Napa Valley. The vineyard towers over the valley at elevations ranging from 1,450 to 1,600 feet above sea level, giving it a cool climate. The isolated location is home to diverse wildlife including turkeys, mountain lions, bobcats, and bears. The bears seemed to have a propensity to devour all the Merlot grapes, prompting Dennis Cakebread to set up a motion detector that would set off music when triggered. Even though the bears were not deterred by the noise, the stunt resulted in some entertaining videos of the bears in action — inspiring the name of the vineyard and its signature wine.