Cakebread Cellars Merlot, Napa Valley 2018

Deep ruby color; cherry, plum, violets on the nose; tart, black cherry, black plum, blackberry, blueberry, black tea, chocolate, oak on the palate.

Cakebread Cellars Merlot, Napa Valley 2018

Dry; chewy, dusty tannins. Dense, full body. Good acidity (3.57 pH). Almost pure merlot effort—99.9% merlot, 0.1% cabernet sauvignon—which makes it straightforward wine without much complexity but this still delivers enough tannic punch for structure and ageability. Oak influence from 17 months in 48% new French oak, 52% neutral French oak. Medium-plus finish. 14.9% ABV

Grapes come from diverse sites in Napa, particularly from Suscol Springs. The vineyard stresses its vines, resulting in smaller, concentrated fruits. This is no mild and mushy merlot. Rather an assertive effort with plenty of tannic backbone.

Jack Cakebread
Dolores Cakebread

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.

Dennis Cakebread
Bruce 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.

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.

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 Cellars Merlot, Napa Valley 2018 flaunts black fruits and classic merlot repertoire of flavors, including chocolate and oak. Concentrated fruits, significant tannic presence, excellent acidity. While this is somewhat one-dimensional with its black fruit assault, there is no mistaken this as a wimp wine. Built for complementing beef and other savory dishes. Pair with rich beef fare, especially grilled; lamb; veal; pork. $60-70

Cakebread Cellars website

Mike Jaeger-Cakebread
Stephanie Jacobs-Cakebread
Cakebread winery and vineyard