Cakebread Cellars has just upped the ante in Napa’s sustainability game. The winery’s newly unveiled visitor’s center in the Rutherford AVA is not only architecturally beautiful, it’s also a boon for the environment, something co-owner Bruce Cakebread is passionate about. The eco-friendly ethos extends from farming to the design of the new building. Even the parking lot was built with an eye for sustainability and biodiversity—an entire water capture system exists beneath the pavers to feed rain back into the aquifers rather than have it pool as runoff into the Napa River. And the family planted various fruit and almond trees to encourage a range of bees and other insects to thrive. I can read the delight in his face as he tells me about it.
Inside, soft, refurbished midcentury modern furniture—some of it sourced from 1stDibs, which has become a new passion for Bruce—anchors the airy tasting room. A spacious gift shop and retail center is capped by a view of the chilled wine library—an archive of past vintages. And it’s not just for show—these are bottles that visitors can both taste and purchase, a rare treat in Napa.
The new center is the physical manifestation of the brand’s philosophy about sustainable and responsible practices that begin in the vineyard. Recycled water is used for irrigation, falcons and owls help control pests, cover crops preserve the health of soil. In making the wine, winemaker Stephanie Jacobs composts the lees leftover from Chardonnay casks, their corks are upcycled into flooring, and she uses technology to manage and contain water usage.
Nine new glass-walled tasting rooms pepper the entire production facility. One looks in on the bottling and labeling area and red-stained casks stacked nearly to the rafters. Others are embedded inside the fermentation tank rooms, where guests can watch the winemaking team do pump overs or move wine from tank to barrel or the giant concrete eggs that Jacobs has been experimenting with using in some of Cakebread’s whites. And still another tasting room sits right outside the onsite chef’s kitchen, overlooking the gardens of artichokes, Buddha’s hands and herbs. “It’s important to us that we connect our visitors with the craft of winemaking,” Bruce says.
The winery offers several flight options for tastings, each with four wines and led by a wine educator. On my recent visit, I tried the wine and food pairing flight as well as a library vertical of 2012s, which included the Dancing Bear Vineyard from that year, an exceptional wine. The beauty of the food pairing is that the vineyard’s onsite chef Brian Streeter knows every wine produced and creates each dish intentionally for that vintage and varietal. First up was the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, which spent about five months in French Oak. Its bright citrus notes were complimented by the richness of thin slices of peppercorn cured salmon. The sweetness of beets accented the wine’s acidity. The wine educator who leads the tasting tells me that the upcoming 2019 vintage of the Sauv Blanc will be the first that includes about 8 to 10 percent of wine that was fermented in concrete eggs.
Next is a wine known to be the favorite of founder Jack Cakebread, who just celebrated his 90th birthday: the Chardonnay Reserve, this one the 2016. The grapes used for this wine have been grown for 25 years on an estate vineyard in Carneros. Its time in small oak barrels gives it a creamy toastiness, but the oak still feels like a light touch. It was paired with corn polenta and burrata—all those creamy notes blending well—and then the richness cut by the acid of some pickled, mild habanada peppers.
A tasting-exclusive wine, the 2017 Pinot Noir from Cakebread’s Apple Barn vineyard in the Anderson Valley has silky tannins that complemented tortellini stuffed with mortadella. A kale pesto brings out the black fruit and mineral notes in the wine.
Finally, the crown jewel of the tasting for me—the 2014 Benchland Select Cabernet Sauvignon, paired with a flat iron steak. The perfume on the wine is heady enough to enjoy without ever taking a sip, but of course, we still sip. This wine is made from parcels that occupy the benchland, the slope that connects the valley floor with the Mayacamas mountains, of two AVAs—Rutherford and Oakville. It has dark fruit and structure made for aging, but the tannins are especially silky, a hallmark of Rutherford Cabs. It’s a beautiful pairing with the steak and especially a maitake mushroom that brings out the earthy notes of the wine.
Back outside, we stroll the patios and gardens and get a second look at building’s exterior, designed by BCV Architecture and Interiors. The wood cladding is made from reclaimed redwood wine tank staves, an homage to the origins of winemaking in Napa, and custom light fixtures are also made from staves of retired Cakebread casks. Stone fountains and native plantings make the outdoor spaces distinct and welcoming. I can’t wait to come back in warmer weather to enjoy a glass in the sun here.
Tasting flights can be arranged in advance at Cakebread.com, and range in price from $25 to $85.