Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2017

Medium gold color; citrus, orange blossom, golden apple, pear, white peach, lemon, vanilla, oak on the nose and palate.

Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2017

Dry; faint-to-no tannins, good acidity (3.48 pH). Medium body. Smooth, creamy mouthfeel. Grapes harvested in small batches at night to preserve freshness and acidity. Pressed directly into tank using whole clusters, then transferred into French oak for fermentation sur lie. Aged eight months in 36% new French oak, 64% in neutral French oak. 13% of wine underwent malolactic fermentation. 13.7% ABV

Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay is a higher-end, sophisticated, 100% chardonnay. I set this aside for six years to see how a quality chard matures and to compare it to younger efforts which I have reviewed in the recent past. The tasting notes for the 2021 vintage are similar to this 2017 effort, but the wine seems overall richer and smoother. Both vintages were harvested, pressed, fermented, and aged in exactly the same way, so this is valid test of vintage and aging differences. The 2021 had slightly more ABV—14.1%—but that is too small to make a real difference. Both vintages are delightful wines. The 2017, to my palate’s delight, aged gracefully. Cakebread is famed chard maker, as this effort affirms.

Cakebread winery and vineyard

Aging wine, especially white wines, comes with trepidation. Most whites—in fact, most wines you normally buy regardless of color—are ready to drink as soon as you purchase. Aging requires patience and the environment to age wine—low light, constant temperature, ideally below 60 degrees F, no vibrations. I am fortunate to be able to meet those requirements, and I have enough wine that I can set some aside in the back of the wine fridge and ignore it for years. That said, it is likely six years is the optimum aging time for this wine. The Cakebread Cellars website says as much. The wait was rewarding, and Cakebread appears to still have this vintage available on its website, although only in 1.5-liter bottles costing a bit less than $100.

Jack and Dolores Cakebread—yes, that is their real last name, not some made-up marketing folderol—founded the winery in 1973 with a commitment to “warm, gracious hospitality and unmatched wines.” Today, the second generation, sons Dennis and Bruce, run the operation. Mike Jaeger—a storied wine brand manager (he was chairman of the board at Clos du Val before joining Cakebread)—is the president and CEO. Stephanie Jacobs was the winemaker for this effort; Niki Williams is the winemaker today.

Jack Cakebread
Dolores Cakebread

Jack first encountered Napa and the wine scene as a photographer. He studied with Ansel Adams from 1957 to 1966. He came to Napa in 1973 to photograph for what became a classic coffee-table book, The Treasury of American Wines. He mentioned to a friend that if some Napa land became available, please give him a call. Land became available, and Jack and Dolores used the advance they received from the wine book to buy their first piece of Napa land.

Dennis Cakebread
Bruce Cakebread

Jack’s father was in the car repair business—Cakebread’s Garage—and, by 1973, Jack was president of the company and working full time in addition to his photography. Didn’t matter, Jack and Dolores began developing their property, planting grapes and a garden that still produces food for the Cakebread culinary program and welcomes visitors. In the years since that atypical beginning, Cakebread has become an iconic Napa fixture. Jack died at age 92 in April, 2022.

The Cakebread website goes into interesting details, along with videos and vintage photographs, and is well worth a visit if you want an entertaining sojourn. Quality and innovation are important at Cakebread. They initiated night harvesting to improve grape quality, whole-cluster pressing of white grapes for freshness and varietal intensity, sur lie aging of chardonnay for richness and creaminess. Cakebread Cellars is a green-certified winery (since 2008). Its vineyards are farmed organically or sustainably. The website has nice videos about Cakebread’s vineyard, winemaking processes, and environmental initiatives.

Cakebread concrete egg tanks

Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2017 is classic Napa chardonnay. There is oak, there is butter, there is ripe fruit—but it all stops well short of exuberant excess. Sophisticated, elegant, still vibrant after six years. This is a major, popular expression of higher-end chard from quality producer. My age-the-chardonnay test was delightfully, delicious, rewarding effort that affirms Cakebread as a premier chardonnay maker. Pair with roasted and fried chicken; scallops with sesame ginger dressing; grilled lobster tail in lemon butter; mustard-crusted pork chops; pork tenderloin; rich fish—red snapper, salmon, mackerel. Cheese—bleu cheese, humbolt fog, brie, camembert, sharp cheddar, ricotta. $50-58

Cakebread Cellars website

Cakebread vineyard
Cakebread night harvest
Mike Jaeger-Cakebread president/CEO
Stephanie Jacobs-Cakebread winemaker