Napa Valley winemaker Jack Cakebread dies at 92


Jack Cakebread, who, with his wife Dolores, turned a 22-acre ranch in Rutherford, California into one of Napa Valley’s major wineries, turned a once-unknown area into global viticulture stardom, died in April. 26 Napa. He was 92 years old.

His son, who died in hospital, was confirmed by Dennis, chairman of Cakebread Cellars.

The photo shows Mr. Cakebread visited two of his family friends on a farm in Rutherford while returning from filming in northern Napa County in 1972. He was 42, and he had no idea what life would be like outside of auto repair.

“I said to them very casually, ‘Let me know if you want to sell this place,’ and I drove home,” he said. Interview with reporter Sally Bernstein. “I came home and the phone rang.”

The next day Mr. Cakebread and his wife bought the farm for a down payment of $2,500. Two couples signed a contract on a yellow legal pad.

Back then, Napa was far from the vineyard paradise it is today. Most of the farmers in the area raised cattle or grew apricots, almonds and walnuts. There are only a few dozen wineries dotted around the valley.

One of them was founded in 1966 by Robert Mondavi. Mr. Mondavi comes from a winegrowing family and has mentored an entire generation of Napa winemakers that started in the 1970s, including Cakebreads.

Mr. With Mondavi’s advice, Mr. Cakebread pioneered many of the techniques that define fine Napa wines, and above all paid close attention to the agricultural aspects of winemaking. Although he was a huge fan of the technology (he was one of the first to use a neutron probe to measure soil moisture), he also insisted on getting up before dawn every morning to work in his vineyard and dirtying his hands.

He told Santa Rosa media Democrats in 2004 that “every day there’s something new, there’s aerial shots, etc.” It’s not a tire track. footprints.”

Cakebread Cellars sold the first wine in 157 cases (1,884 bottles) of grape Chardonnay purchased in 1974. At the same time, Cakebreads planted Sauvignon Blanc vines on the new site. It was a bold choice. The grapes are little known among American drinkers, and planting grapes in Napa was almost unprecedented.

In 1984, Mr. “When we put Sauvignon Blanc in, everyone thought we were wrong,” Cakebread told the Boston Globe. But we decided to make only the wines we want to drink. .”

It wasn’t a mistake. With the fruity yet balanced Chardonnay of the cakebread, Sauvignon Blanc became a signature wine and fueled the varietal’s burgeoning popularity among American wine consumers.

But it took almost 20 years for Cakebreads to work full-time at the winery. Until then, they worked in a garage in Auckland, commuting north on weekends. They finally sold their garage in 1989 and moved to Rutherford.

Today, Cakebread is one of the most rated wineries in the United States, and is regularly ranked as the most popular brand of major restaurants in Wine & Spirits magazine’s annual survey. The company says it manages 1,600 acres of land and sells about 100,000 boxes per year.

Over time, Mr. Cakebread took on roles that Mondavi once had, mentoring young winemakers and caring for the community around Rutherford. He served as president of the Napa Valley Vintners Association (as did his two sons, Bruce and Dennis), and many of his former employees now run their own wineries.

“Jack was a great sage,” said Mr. Said David Duncan, CEO of Silver Oak Cellars in nearby Oakville, where Cakebread started the winery. “He was always welcoming and very passionate about the community.”

John Emmett Cakebread was born on January 11, 1930 in Auckland. His father, Lester, owned Cakebread’s Garage, a repair shop where his mother, Cottie, also worked.

His father also owned a farm growing almonds, walnuts and apricots in Contra Costa County, and Jack worked as a boy between shifts in the garage.

Jack attended the University of California, Berkeley, but did not graduate. During the Korean War, he served as a jet engine mechanic in the Air Force attached to the Strategic Air Force Command.

After serving, he returned to the garage after his father retired. He also started taking pictures.

What started as a hobby turned into a profession, especially after I started attending workshops led by landscape photographer Ansel Adams. In a few years Mr. Adams teaches some of his classes, so Mr. I trusted Cakebread.

Mr. Cakebread eventually caught the attention of the editors of Crown Publishers, who commissioned wine lover Nathan Chroman’s “American Wine Treasury” photo shoot. When this book was published in 1973, it included almost every commercial winery. There were 130 in all. There are about 11,000 of them today.

On that day in 1972, Mr. It was the book project that sent Cakebread to Napa, and it was the advance he received that provided money for the down payment on the cattle ranch.

Cakebread shifted his creative interests to winemaking, but never gave up photography. Years later, he could still be seen holding a Minox camera around the winery.

Jack and Dolores Cakebread gradually stepped back from day-to-day management in the 2000s, passing control over to sons Bruce and Dennis. But they were still active. Mrs. Cakebread ran an annual workshop introducing chefs to winemaking, and Mr. Cakebread became a full-time graduate of business school, lecturing in the winemaking business.

Among his advice was patience.

“I realized the weather was going to do its job,” he told the press Democrat. “I only worry about what I can change, not about what I cannot change.”

Dolores Cakebread died in 2020. Mr. Cakebread is survived by his sons Dennis, Bruce and Steve. your grandson; and two great-grandchildren.

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