Cakebread Cellars and a Dancing Bear

Cakebread Cellars is one of the most known names in the Napa Valley and celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2013. It is a family-owned winery, which has generated remarkable success. This is due to the quality of their wine and the quality of their people. This is a winery that has grown and evolved over that time period, adding vineyards and expanding its facilities.

Cakebread is known most broadly for their white wines – Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. But this is only the beginning of their portfolio. You will find quality throughout their offerings from Syrah, Zinfandel, and red blends to their Cabernet. In fact, their most recent vintage (2012) of Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet was given a score of 99 points – that is nearly perfect.

Our visit to Cakebread a few weeks ago was a special day. Along with some friends, we were “redeeming” an auction lot from Taste of Howell Mountain 2015. Our day began with a tour of the grounds starting in the garden. The Cakebreads may have “invented” the wine and food experience in the valley. Very early on, they began hosting events featuring the pairing of food and their wine. Today, they have a full time gardener who tends the garden to support their wine and food events. More than that, they employ a full time culinary director who leads cooking classes and does special events for the winery. Definitely check out the “culinary”  page on the website as a resource for recipes (including videos) and pairing of wines. It is a real stand-out reference for building delicious meals matched beautifully with their wines.

On our visit, we were greeted with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and shown around the facilities. We strolled past the fermentation tanks and into the barrel room. The grounds are very lovely and provide a great backdrop for learning about and enjoying their wine. This set our day off to a relaxing start.

We then hopped on a bus and were driven to the Dancing Bear Ranch vineyard on Howell Mountain. This was a special event as there are no regular tastings on this mountain vineyard. When we arrived at the vineyard, Dave Griffiths, Cakebread’s sales and marketing manager, greeted us. While the day was chilly and overcast, the lovely wine warmed us. We stood out on the patio – gazing across the valley below. It was a gorgeous view as the vineyard sits at 1600 feet above the valley floor.

It was tough to go inside – away from the vistas of the valley, yet a beautiful lunch awaited us. We were seated at a large table, while each course was paired with Cakebread wines. The chef for that day was none other than Brian Streeter, the culinary director for the winery. He has been with Cakebread for 25 years and loves to share the art of pairing food with wine. The pièce de résistance that day was the pairing of Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet with a steak – delicious.

Cakebread Cellars is a class operation producing quality wine with a wide portfolio of varietals and blends. Next time you are in the valley, stop in and taste. They are by appointment only and offer many different venues to taste their wine. You also do not need to wait – you can readily find Cakebread wines at your local store or fine wine shop as they have wide distribution. While you may not be able to visit the Dancing Bear Ranch on Howell Mountain, you can visit their website and build your own fabulous meal paired beautifully with Cakebread wines courtesy of Brian Streeter.


Taste of Howell Mountain: Plan Now for this June Event!

Tickets are now on sale for the Taste of Howell Mountain, which is a fun event for a great cause on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley. The Taste of Howell Mountain is a great opportunity to experience many Howell Mountain wines and all for a great cause — to raise money for the Howell Mountain Elementary School. Tickets will go fast, so don’t hesitate if you’re interested or looking for a good reason to visit Napa Valley on the weekend of June 18th!

Here’s my post about last year’s event to give you a sense of the fun you’ll be in for if you attend.


Winemaker Helen Keplinger: One to Follow

People will tell you that much of winemaking takes place in the vineyard. They say that 80% of what goes into a wine’s quality is produced in how that vine is grown and nurtured. I buy that in many ways. That leaves at least 20% to the skills, abilities and palate of the winemaker. That 20% really matters. Helen Keplinger is one winemaker to follow – no matter where she is or what grapes she is working with, her wine is of remarkable quality. (See this recent post called California Women of the Rhone, which highlights Helen and three other winemakers who focus on Rhone varietals.)

I first tasted one of Helen’s early wines back in 2008. The bottle was a full throttle Grenache named Red Slope. The vintage was 2006, and I remember it well. Rich, fleshy and deep fruit flavors. I immediately went back to buy more and immediately joined the Keplinger mailing list. I have been buying her wine ever since and watching as her career and reputation have taken off. She has worked with many of the best in Napa Valley and been the winemaker for several different labels.

The focus for her winemaking, though, is Rhone Varietals (notably, syrah, grenache, and mourvedre). As she states, Rhones are the “wines she and her husband DJ reach for most often.” They are food-friendly and, in my opinion, lovely to quaff by themselves. Helen sources her grapes from many different areas in Northern California, such as Sonoma and Amador County. They are then transformed by her deft hand.

In addition to her Keplinger wines, she makes a red wine under the name of Vermillion. I just opened the most recent vintage of this wine and quite frankly was wowed. It is a 2014 – very young – yet very approachable. It has bright red fruit; it’s plush on the mid palate; and it has a long finish. This wine is a blend, of course, of Rhone varietals. This all for only $35 a bottle! This is a real value and something I would highly recommend. At the current time, since it is a small production, the only way to obtain the wine is by signing up at the Vermillion website. This would afford access to the Vermillion offering each spring.