October 6, 2022

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Jack Cakebread, Groundbreaking Napa Valley Winemaker, Dies at 92

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Jack Cakebread, who with his spouse, Dolores, turned a 22-acre cattle ranch in Rutherford, Calif., into just one of Napa Valley’s foremost wineries, alongside the way assisting to propel the once-obscure region to worldwide viticultural stardom, died on April 26 in Napa. He was 92.

His dying, in a medical center, was confirmed by his son Dennis, the chairman of Cakebread Cellars.

Mr. Cakebread, an car mechanic with a sideline in pictures, was returning from a shoot in northern Napa County when he compensated a pay a visit to in 1972 to a few of household buddies at their farm in Rutherford. He was 42 several years outdated and only vaguely curious about what a daily life past car repair service could glimpse like.

“I stated to them just really casually, ‘You know, if you ever want to offer this spot, permit me know,’ and I drove property,” he claimed in an job interview with the journalist Sally Bernstein. “I got residence and the cellular phone was ringing.”

The upcoming day Mr. Cakebread and his wife ordered the farm with a $2,500 down payment. The two partners drew up the agreement on a yellow legal pad.

At the time, Napa was significantly from the vinous paradise it is today. The region’s farmers largely elevated cattle or grew apricots, almonds and walnuts. Only a few dozen wineries dotted the valley.

One of them, founded by Robert Mondavi in 1966, was just up the street. Mr. Mondavi arrived from a winemaking loved ones, and he grew to become a mentor to an entire technology of Napa winemakers who obtained their commence in the 1970s, such as the Cakebreads.

With Mr. Mondavi’s counsel, Mr. Cakebread pioneered a lot of of the techniques that arrived to define higher-stop Napa wines, above all a near interest to the agricultural facet of winemaking. Even though he was a excellent lover of technologies — he was among the 1st to use a neutron probe to evaluate soil dampness — he also insisted on finding his palms dirty, climbing just about every morning in advance of dawn to do the job in his vineyards.

“Every working day one thing new arrives up, aerial imaging, and so on.,” he explained to The Santa Rosa Press Democrat in 2004, “but the only way you actually know is to go away footprints in the winery. Not tire tracks. Footprints.”

Cakebread Cellars sold its initial wines, a mere 157 circumstances (1,884 bottles) of chardonnay created from purchased grapes, in 1974. At the similar time, the Cakebreads planted sauvignon blanc vines on their new plot. It was a bold choice: The grape was mainly not known amid American drinkers, and planting it in Napa was just about unheard-of.

“When we set in sauvignon blanc, everybody assumed we were being mistaken,” Mr. Cakebread explained to The Boston World in 1984. “But we resolved to make only wines we favored to consume, simply because that’s what we would do if they didn’t provide.”

It was no mistake. Together with Cakebread’s fruit-forward but balanced chardonnay, sauvignon blanc became a signature wine, and it helped push the varietal’s surging recognition amid American wine people.

Nevertheless, it took almost two a long time in advance of the Cakebreads could commit to the winery complete time until eventually then they worked at their garage, in Oakland, and commuted north on the weekends. They last but not least bought the garage in 1989 and moved to Rutherford.

Now Cakebread is one of America’s most extremely regarded wineries, on a regular basis topping an annual poll by Wine & Spirits journal of the most popular makes among top dining places. It controls 1,600 acres of land and states it sells about 100,000 situations a yr.

In time, Mr. Cakebread assumed something of the role that Mr. Mondavi had the moment played, mentoring younger winemakers and shepherding the community all around Rutherford. He served as president of the Napa Valley Vintners Affiliation (as did two of his sons, Bruce and Dennis), and lots of of his previous workers now direct wineries of their personal.

“Jack was this fantastic sage,” explained David Duncan, the main govt of Silver Oak Cellars in close by Oakville, which his father launched the very same calendar year Mr. Cakebread began his winery. “He was always so welcoming, and so passionate about the local community.”

John Emmett Cakebread was born on Jan. 11, 1930, in Oakland. His father, Lester, owned Cakebread’s Garage, a repair service store, where by his mom, Cottie, also labored.

His father also owned a farm in Contra Costa County, where by he grew almonds, walnuts and apricots, and exactly where Jack worked as a boy, in between shifts at the garage.

Jack attended the College of California, Berkeley, but did not graduate. He served in the Air Power throughout the Korean War, assigned to the Strategic Air Command as a jet engine mechanic.

Right after his support, he returned to the garage, which he took in excess of after his father retired. He also took up photography.

What began as a interest turned into an avocation, especially just after he started out attending workshops led by the landscape photographer Ansel Adams. In just a couple of several years, Mr. Adams reliable Mr. Cakebread sufficient that he experienced him teach some of his courses.

Mr. Cakebread ultimately drew the attention of an editor at Crown Publishers, who commissioned him to just take the pictures for “The Treasury of American Wines,” by the wine aficionado Nathan Chroman. When the book was revealed in 1973, it featured almost just about every business winery in the region — all 130 of them. Now there are some 11,000.

It was the reserve job that despatched Mr. Cakebread to Napa on that day in 1972, and it was the advance he gained for it that offered the funds for the down payment on the cattle ranch.

Mr. Cakebread shifted his innovative attention to winemaking, but he in no way abandoned images: Yrs later, he could continue to be uncovered toting a Minox digicam all around the winery.

Jack and Dolores Cakebread slowly pulled back again from day-to-working day management in the 2000s, ceding handle to their sons Bruce and Dennis. But they remained energetic: Mrs. Cakebread ran an once-a-year workshop introducing chefs to winemaking, though Mr. Cakebread grew to become a frequent at organization faculties, lecturing about the small business of winemaking.

Amid his words and phrases of suggestions was endurance.

“I’ve understood that climate is going to do what it’s likely to do,” he told The Push Democrat. “I only worry about the items I can modify, I don’t fear about what I cannot.”

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

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