Tag Archives: Napa Valley

What’s old is new again at Cakebread Cellars

The story of Cakebread Cellars begins in Oakland, California. Jack and Dolores Cakebread were high school sweethearts who married and led a somewhat average life…to start. Jack was a mechanic but loved taking photographs…enough to study under Ansel Adams at Yosemite. In homage to Ansel Adams, a new outdoor section at Cakebread Cellars incorporates a stone from Yosemite.

In 1972 Jack was hired as a photographer to head to the Napa Valley on assignment for “The Treasury of American Wines”. His payment for the book of images was later used as a down payment for Cakebread Cellars, a modest structure at that time. It wasn’t until 1985 that the structure seen today was built. Another renovation is in process – a visitor center which will be complete sometime next year.

Although Stephanie Jacobs has served a few roles at Cakebread Cellars for over a decade, most recently she was appointed as head winemaker. Among the 14 vineyards Cakebread owns, she has a love affair with pinot noir from Anderson Valley. I couldn’t wait to try a glass and share her comments with you:

Several of us on the Cakebread production team are UC Davis alums, so we enjoy partnering with their Viticulture and Enology researchers to explore new innovations – from the vineyards to the cellar – in pursuit of quality. That could mean new technology and equipment, like the infrared spectroscopy machine that we’ve started using in the lab to analyze large amounts of grape samples in short amounts of time.  What may have taken four hours in the past now only takes an hour, which is precious time savings during the busy harvest season and helps us make more timely grape picking decisions. 

Innovation isn’t just chasing what’s new.  It could also mean revisiting older historic techniques that have fallen out of fashion or are less commonly used.  For example, we harvest nearly all of our grapes at night because we think it greatly improves fruit quality, plus it provides cooler temperature working conditions for our picking crews during the warm Napa weather months.  Concrete egg fermentation tanks and larger-sized puncheon oak barrels are other examples of “what’s old is new again” when it comes to winemaking explorations.

On a hot 100 degree Saturday, I froze inside the air-conditioned private tasting room, where a pour of a 2017 sauvignon blanc set the stage for a superb tasting of a 2015 chardonnay reserve made from Carneros grapes. Carneros is a region within Napa Valley with a cooler climate; the grapes grow a thinner skin. This wine feels like cream on my palate and instantly I recall my gal pals on the North Shore of Boston who loved Cakebread Cellars chardonnay. I wholeheartedly agree.

Aside from tasting wines, Cakebread Cellars offers cooking classes and an in-depth tour twice each morning to oversee vineyard production – from the grapes’ path to the bottle. Cooking classes include the harvest from Dolores’s Garden for farm-to-table offerings.

garden

Finally, I’m ready to taste the 2015 pinot noir from grapes of Apple Barn vineyard. This is a heavy counterpart to Annahala Ranch and sold only at this winery. If you’re a wine club member, you can get this wine. This wine alone is worth the membership. But if you require more incentive, upcoming wine club events include an August 25 Full Moon Dinner at Dancing Bear Ranch, an October 13 Harvest Dinner and a December 1 Holiday Cooking Class.

OK, I’m ready for a tasting of the 2014 Dancing Bear Ranch Estate Merlot ($54), which turns out to be robust and dry, with 6% cabernet sauvignon to give it a good backbone.

If you’re in the Napa Valley and want to know what restaurant wine lists include Cakebread Cellars, check out Saint Helena: Cook, Goose & Gander, Market and Sunshine Market.

My farewell sip, a 2013 cabernet sauvignon from Dancing Bear Vineyard, is smooth – an actual drink alone cab?! One bottle will set you back $146 but like so many great wines of California, it’s worth the splurge.

 

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The wines of BottleRock Napa

Since I was only 6 years old during Woodstock, it is obvious that I didn’t attend this historical music festival. So, the next best hippie chic music experience I deem close to what I’ve heard regarding Woodstock is #BottleRock Napa, a 3-day musical playground with culinary chef demos, and yes… lots of wine. The event is, after all, in the Napa Valley, and it draws in 150,000 attendees in a 3-day period.

Coppolla bubblesInspired by a cloud of soap bubbles from the tent of Sonoma-based Coppola Winery, my first stop was in front of the tent for Domaine Chandon, where I happily sipped Chandon Rosé bubbles. I wasn’t even concerned about the plastic cup it was served in…it was that good.

A walk in the nearby Wine Garden, is where I sipped Napa Valley white wine, Dissonance. I was told this is the label of Foo Fighters, ‘so I couldn’t wait to sip this rock star wine. But, unlike the awesome rock band’s stellar reputation and performance on Sunday, May 28, Dissonance fell a bit short, or sour to describe the taste. It was a bit too acidic; perhaps with a plate of fries. Next time, I’ll try the merlot, which is what Blackbird in French means, and what has put this label on the oenophile map.

I later realizeBlackbird Dissonance Wine Labeld that there were distinct Foo Fighter wine labels for Blackbird Vineyards:

  • 2016 Foo Fighters Rosé | Central Coast, California ($24) Farmed from vineyards along the slopes of Mount Diablo, winemaker Aaron Pott intentionally crafted an elegant, dry rosé to appreciate at every occasion from the mundane to the extraordinary.
  • 2015 Foo Fighters Cabernet Sauvignon | Red Hills, Lake County ($35) Crafted by winemaker Aaron Pott from 2,400 ft. high vineyards in the Red Hills of Lake County, this ten barrel Cabernet Sauvignon commemorating BottleRock 2017 is steadfast in its character.
  • 2011 Foo Fighters Proprietary Red Wine | Napa Valley ($60) This four-barrel Signature Series Cuvée is hand-tuned to express the lithe structure that only comes from exceptional fruit.

Like missing out on Woodstock, I missed out on sipping these Foo Fighter wines and will always wonder how these small-run labels performed on the palate.

Merlot Month with Marilyn Merlot

Now that rose season has subsided, I opened a bottle of Merryvale merlot before realizing October is Merlot Month! I hadn’t known until I read (hashtag) #MerlotMe in a professional wine journal. California merlots are wonderful, fruit-forward wines that bring out my favorite, raspberry, as well as blackberry. Heavy notes of mocha delight my palate, and pouring this inky purple wine reminds me of Bordeaux wines. Merlot is famous for its part in Bordeaux blends, but in California, you get a less complex tannin structure and minerality. That is okay with me, because I opened a full-bodied (pun intended) Marilyn Merlot and became smitten with the Marilyn Monroe label. Each wine has an image of the former Norma Jean and the corks are sealed with her kiss!

With grapes from the historic Missouri Hopper Oakville appellation in Napa Valley, California, winemaker Bob Pepi had a running head start in the making of 2014 Marilyn Merlot, just as Bernard Bruno was considered the man who discovered the blonde bombshell. For the 2014 Marilyn Merlot, he blended in 3 percent petit verdot, which adds to the intense purple juice.

Open the bottle today to enjoy with hamburger, pizza and almost any meal. Keep for another 5-8 years and it’s best enjoyed with roasted duck or braised beef.

The 2015 merlot has a different label, called Norma Jeane. Grapes for this merlot hail from the “Estrella Triangle” in the heart of Paso Robles. When you’re ready, say hello to Norma Jeane, open her up and enjoy with pizza, panini or pasta.

Marilyn Monroe is known to have frequented Napa Valley wineries; in fact, if you visit the tasting room at Frank Family Wines in Calistoga, you’ll see a life-size cutout of the “Some Like it Hot” movie star for posing purposes. Can you imagine roaming tasting rooms to meet up with Marilyn?

Each varietal has a unique photographic label of Marilyn, including a 2015 Sauvignon Blonde made with Lake County grapes, and a 2014 Meritage with grapes grown Andy Beckstoffer’s Missouri Hopper Vineyard (like the Marilyn Merlot 2014 except blended with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and a touch of petit verdot.

Lest not forget the magic of a coupe when held by Marilyn Monroe. Bubbles and Marilyn pair well together, and Blonde de Noirs Cuvee Ten North Coast Sparking Wine (pinot noir and chardonnay) also pairs well with smoked salmon, cheeses and hey, why not caviar?

Some like it merlot. I like Marilyn Merlot and especially like the price point of $29.98 for a bottle of 2014. With a price as reasonable as this (remember, this is Napa Valley), who needs to marry a millionaire to drink good wine?

A bottle of Marilyn Monroe makes a great gift for the holidays, especially because almost everyone loves Marilyn!

For more information on Marilyn Monroe wines, visit www.marilynwines.com