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Jack Cakebread, Pioneering Napa Valley Winemaker, Dies at 92

Jack Cakebread, who together with his spouse, Dolores, turned a 22-acre cattle ranch in Rutherford, Calif., into one in all Napa Valley’s main wineries, alongside the best way serving to to propel the once-obscure area to world viticultural stardom, died on April 26 in Napa. hey what 92

His demise, in a hospital, was confirmed by his son Dennis, the chairman of Cakebread Cellars.

Mr. Cakebread, an auto mechanic with a sideline in images, was getting back from a shoot in northern Napa County when he paid a go to in 1972 to a few household buddies at their farm in Rutherford. He was 42 years outdated and solely vaguely inquisitive about what a life past automotive restore may appear like.

“I stated to them simply very casually, ‘, for those who ever wish to promote this place, let me know,’ and I drove dwelling,” he stated in an interview with the journalist Sally Bernstein. “I obtained dwelling and the telephone was ringing.”

The following day Mr. Cakebread and his spouse bought the farm with a $2,500 down fee. The 2 {couples} drew up the contract on a yellow authorized pad.

On the time, Napa was removed from the wine paradise it’s right now. The area’s farmers principally raised cattle or grew apricots, almonds and walnuts. Just a few dozen wineries dotted the valley.

Considered one of them, based by Robert Mondavi in ​​1966, was simply up the street. Mr. Mondavi got here from a winemaking household, and he grew to become a mentor to a whole technology of Napa winemakers who obtained their begin within the Seventies, together with the Cakebreads.

With Mr. Mondavi’s counsel, Mr. Cakebread pioneered lots of the methods that got here to outline high-end Napa wines, above all an in depth consideration to the agricultural aspect of winemaking. Although he was an ideal fan of know-how — he was among the many first to make use of a neutron probe to measure soil moisture — he additionally insisted on getting his arms soiled, rising each morning earlier than daybreak to work in his vineyards.

“On daily basis one thing new comes up, aerial imaging, and many others.,” he instructed The Santa Rosa Press Democrat in 2004, “however the one means you actually know is to go away footprints within the winery. Not tire tracks. footprints.”

Cakebread Cellars bought its first wines, a mere 157 instances (1,884 bottles) of chardonnay produced from bought grapes, in 1974. On the similar time, the Cakebreads planted sauvignon blanc vines on their new plot. It was a daring alternative: the grape was largely unknown amongst American drinkers, and planting it in Napa was virtually unheard-of.

“Once we put in sauvignon blanc, everyone thought we had been mistaken,” Mr. Cakebread instructed The Boston Globe in 1984. “However we determined to make solely wines we appreciated to drink, as a result of that is what we’d do in the event that they did not promote .”

It was no mistake. Together with Cakebread’s fruit-forward but balanced chardonnay, sauvignon blanc grew to become a signature wine, and it helped drive the varietal’s surging recognition amongst American wine customers.

Nonetheless, it took virtually 20 years earlier than the Cakebreads may decide to the vineyard full time; till then they labored at their storage, in Oakland, and commuted north on the weekends. They lastly bought the storage in 1989 and moved to Rutherford.

Immediately Cakebread is one in all America’s most extremely regarded wineries, frequently topping an annual ballot by Wine & Spirits journal of the preferred manufacturers amongst main eating places. It controls 1,600 acres of land and says it sells about 100,000 instances a yr.

In time, Mr Cakebread assumed one thing of the position that Mr Mondavi had as soon as performed, mentoring younger winemakers and shepherding the group round Rutherford. He served as president of the Napa Valley Vintners Affiliation (as did two of his sons, Bruce and Dennis), and plenty of of his former workers now lead wineries of their very own.

“Jack was this nice sage,” stated David Duncan, the chief government of Silver Oak Cellars in close by Oakville, which his father based the identical yr Mr. Cakebread began his vineyard. “He was at all times so welcoming, and so passionate concerning the group.”

John Emmett Cakebread was born on Jan. 11, 1930, in Oakland. His father, Lester, owned Cakebread’s Storage, a restore store the place his mom, Cottie, additionally labored.

His father additionally owned a farm in Contra Costa County, the place he grew almonds, walnuts and apricots, and the place Jack labored as a boy, in between shifts on the storage.

Jack attended the College of California, Berkeley, however didn’t graduate. He served within the Air Drive throughout the Korean Conflict, assigned to the Strategic Air Command as a jet engine mechanic.

After his service, he returned to the storage, which he took over after his father retired. He additionally took up images.

What started as a pastime changed into an avocation, particularly after he began attending workshops led by the panorama photographer Ansel Adams. Inside a number of years, Mr. Adams trusted Mr. Cakebread sufficient that he had him educate a few of his lessons.

Mr. Cakebread ultimately drew the eye of an editor at Crown Publishers, who commissioned him to take the pictures for “The Treasury of American Wines,” by the wine aficionado Nathan Chroman. When the guide was printed in 1973, it featured practically each business vineyard within the nation — all 130 of them. Immediately there are some 11,000.

It was the guide challenge that Mr. Cakebread despatched to Napa on that day in 1972, and it was the advance he acquired for it that offered the cash for the down fee on the cattle ranch.

Mr Cakebread shifted his artistic consideration to winemaking, however he by no means deserted images: Years later, he may nonetheless be discovered toting a Minox digicam across the vineyard.

Jack and Dolores Cakebread steadily pulled again from day-to-day administration within the 2000s, ceding management to their sons Bruce and Dennis. However they remained lively: Mrs. Cakebread ran an annual workshop introducing cooks to winemaking, whereas Mr. Cakebread grew to become a daily at enterprise faculties, lecturing concerning the enterprise of winemaking.

Amongst his phrases of recommendation was endurance.

“I’ve realized that climate goes to do what it is going to do,” he instructed The Press Democrat. “I solely fear concerning the issues I can change, I do not fear about what I can not.”

Dolores Cakebread died in 2020. Mr. Cakebread is survived by his sons, Dennis, Bruce and Steve; 4 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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