You may or may not have tasted the wines of California’s Cakebread Cellars. If you did, it wasn’t because you were beguiled by a Cakebread magazine ad. You see, in 30 years of producing very fine wines in Napa Valley, Cakebread has never advertised. Cakebread has always been a low-profile outfit, depending on word of mouth “marketing.” It’s a strategy that works, especially since some of the wine world’s most powerful mouths are wont to sing Cakebread’s praises. More about that later.
I have a pile of “winery cookbooks” gathering dust in a corner. The bulk of such cookbooks are vanity affairs. It never occurs to most chefs to take up winemaking. But for some reason, many winemakers and vintners decide to foray into the cookbook business. The result is inevitably disappointing. So when I received the new Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Cookbook in the mail recently, it was destined for the vineyard cookbook discard pile. Until, that is, I began to flip through it. The photographs are stunning. Tempting enough even to cause me to glance at the recipes. Long story short: Like everything Cakebread does, this is a very fine cookbook. I’d recommend it just on the strength of the recipe for butternut squash soup with Sherry and almonds, which would be delightful with Cakebread Cellars’ creamy, full-bodied Chardonnay Reserve.
The Cakebread Cellar’s story is an interesting one, and another good reason to buy Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Cookbook—it’s all in there. Jack Cakebread was a professional photographer who had served in the Air Force and owned an Oakland auto repair shop when, in 1973, he and his wife Dolores impulsively decided to spend their entire savings of $2,500 as a down payment on an old run-down ranch in Napa. They immediately went to work planting grapes and taking winemaking classes at U.C. Davis. Every cent they made went into the new winemaking venture. As Jack Cakebread puts it, “We’d sell some wine and then turn around and pay a light bill. We made a barrel, sold a barrel.”
While most California winemakers were planting Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, Cakebread decided to grow Sauvignon Blanc grapes. It was a good choice. Today Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc ($23.30) is considered one of California’s finest. Of the Sauvignon Blanc, Food & Wine said, “Cakebread Cellars can do no wrong.” And you could do no wrong pairing it with Cakebread’s recipe for watercress, fennel, and blood orange salad.
Jack Cakebread likes to share stories about his early supporters. One was Phillip Faight, a wine buyer for Yountville’s Groezingers retail shop. When invited to sample the very first Cakebread vintage, he asked to buy all of it: 157 cases. Then there’s the wealthy wine enthusiast who couldn’t find enough Cakebread Cellars in Texas so he flew his Lear Jet to Napa saying, “I intend to fill it up with Cakebread!”
In 30 years, Cakebread has gone from an initial production of 157 cases to 85,000 annually. And it’s still hard to find nationwide, which makes me feel lucky that we can get Cakebread in Utah. Andrea Immer’s Wine Buying Guide calls Cakebread Cellars Napa Chardonnay ($38.70) “The best Chardonnay I can never find.” It’s a classic Napa Chardonnay with tropical fruit flavors and a touch of subtle oak—exceptional quality for the price. I’d love to pair it with Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Cookbook’s risotto with escarole, Cremini mushrooms and Fontina.
So if you weren’t familiar with Cakebread, now you are. That’s how it works: Not via expensive ads, but by word of mouth. Pick up a copy of Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Cookbook, treat yourself to one of Cakebread Cellars’ delicious wines, and thank Jah you live in Utah!