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Jack Cakebread, Pioneering Napa Valley Winemaker, Dies at 92

Jack Cakebread, who together with his spouse, Dolores, grew to become a 22-acre farm animals ranch in Rutherford, Calif., into considered one of Napa Valley’s main wineries, alongside the way in which serving to to propel the once-obscure area to international viticultural stardom, died on April 26 in Napa. He used to be 92.

His demise, in a health facility, used to be showed through his son Dennis, the chairman of Cakebread Cellars.

Mr. Cakebread, an auto mechanic with a sideline in images, used to be coming back from a shoot in northern Napa County when he paid a discuss with in 1972 to a few circle of relatives pals at their farm in Rutherford. He used to be 42 years previous and handiest vaguely fascinated by what a lifestyles past automobile restore may appear to be.

“I mentioned to them simply very casually, ‘You recognize, in the event you ever wish to promote this position, let me know,’ and I drove house,” he mentioned in an interview with the journalist Sally Bernstein. “I were given house and the telephone used to be 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 felony pad.

On the time, Napa used to be a long way from the vinous paradise it’s as of late. The area’s farmers most commonly raised farm animals or grew apricots, almonds and walnuts. Only some dozen wineries dotted the valley.

One among them, based through Robert Mondavi in 1966, used to be simply up the street. Mr. Mondavi got here from a winemaking circle of relatives, and he was a mentor to a whole technology of Napa winemakers who were given their get started within the Seventies, together with the Cakebreads.

With Mr. Mondavi’s recommend, Mr. Cakebread pioneered lots of the ways that got here to outline high-end Napa wines, above all an in depth consideration to the rural aspect of winemaking. Although he used to be a really perfect fan of era — he used to be a number of the first to make use of a neutron probe to measure soil moisture — he additionally insisted on getting his palms grimy, emerging each and every morning earlier than first light to paintings in his vineyards.

“Each day one thing new comes up, aerial imaging, and so forth.,” he advised The Santa Rosa Press Democrat in 2004, “however the one approach you in reality know is to go away footprints within the winery. No longer tire tracks. Footprints.”

Cakebread Cellars bought its first wines, an insignificant 157 circumstances (1,884 bottles) of chardonnay comprised of bought grapes, in 1974. On the similar time, the Cakebreads planted sauvignon blanc vines on their new plot. It used to be a daring selection: The grape used to be in large part unknown amongst American drinkers, and planting it in Napa used to be virtually unheard-of.

“Once we installed sauvignon blanc, everyone idea we have been incorrect,” Mr. Cakebread advised The Boston Globe in 1984. “However we made up our minds to make handiest wines we preferred to drink, as a result of that’s what we might do in the event that they didn’t promote.”

It used to be no mistake. Along side Cakebread’s fruit-forward but balanced chardonnay, sauvignon blanc was a signature wine, and it helped pressure the varietal’s surging recognition amongst American wine customers.

Nonetheless, it took virtually twenty years earlier than the Cakebreads may decide to the vineyard complete time; till then they labored at their storage, in Oakland, and commuted north at the weekends. They in spite of everything bought the storage in 1989 and moved to Rutherford.

These days Cakebread is considered one of The united states’s maximum very talked-about wineries, incessantly topping an annual ballot through Wine & Spirits mag of the most well liked manufacturers amongst main eating places. It controls 1,600 acres of land and says it sells about 100,000 circumstances 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 used to be this super sage,” mentioned David Duncan, the executive government of Silver Oak Cellars in within reach Oakville, which his father based the similar yr Mr. Cakebread began his vineyard. “He used to be at all times so welcoming, and so enthusiastic about the group.”

John Emmett Cakebread used to be 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 Power all the way through the Korean Battle, assigned to the Strategic Air Command as a jet engine mechanic.

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

What started as a interest become an avocation, particularly after he began attending workshops led through the panorama photographer Ansel Adams. Inside of a couple of years, Mr. Adams depended on Mr. Cakebread sufficient that he had him train a few of his categories.

Mr. Cakebread ultimately drew the eye of an editor at Crown Publishers, who commissioned him to take the images for “The Treasury of American Wines,” through the wine aficionado Nathan Chroman. When the guide used to be revealed in 1973, it featured just about each and every industrial vineyard within the nation — all 130 of them. These days there are some 11,000.

It used to be the guide mission that despatched Mr. Cakebread to Napa on that day in 1972, and it used to be the improvement he gained for it that equipped the cash for the down fee at the farm animals ranch.

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

Jack and Dolores Cakebread progressively pulled again from daily control within the 2000s, ceding regulate to their sons Bruce and Dennis. However they remained energetic: Mrs. Cakebread ran an annual workshop introducing cooks to winemaking, whilst Mr. Cakebread was a typical at industry colleges, lecturing in regards to the industry of winemaking.

Amongst his phrases of recommendation used to be endurance.

“I’ve learned that climate goes to do what it’s going to do,” he advised The Press Democrat. “I handiest fear in regards to the issues I will be able to exchange, I don’t fear about what I will be able to’t.”

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


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