Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2021

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

Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2021

Dry; good acidity (3.48 pH); 100% chardonnay. Faint or no tannins (that from oak). Grapes primarily come from Carneros vineyards. Night harvesting to preserve natural acidity. Whole-cluster pressed to preserve fruit purity.
Fermented in French oak sur lie. Aged eight months in French oak, 32% new, 68% neutral; 13% malolactic fermentation. Medium-full body, silky mouthfeel. Rich, vibrant presentation of Napa chardonnay fruits. 14.1% ABV

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 is the winemaker.

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.

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 46 years since that atypical beginning, Cakebread has become an iconic Napa fixture. Jack died at age 92 in April, 2022.

Jack Cakebread
Dolores Cakebread

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.

Bruce Cakebread
Dennis Cakebread
Mike Jaeger-Cakebread president/CEO
Stephanie Jacobs-Cakebread winemaker

Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2021 is substantial, classic California chardonnay. There is oak, there is butter, there is ripe fruit—but it all stops short of florid, exuberant, excess. Comes close, but avoids being a caricature chard. There is powerful finishing flash of lemon and citrus and sharp chard power. Intriguing, some will consider it fascinating, others may not. In any event, this is a major, popular expression of chard from quality producer. It needs to be on your chardonnay bucket list so you can decide for yourself. Pair with roast and fried chicken; scallops with sesame ginger dressing; grilled lobster tail in lemon butter; mustard-crusted pork chops. Cheese—bleu cheese, humbolt fog, brie, camembert, sharp cheddar, ricotta. $34-40

Cakebread Cellars website

Cakebread winery and vineyard