Jack Cakebread, Pioneering Napa Valley Winemaker, Dies at 92

Jack Cakebread, who with his spouse, Dolores, turned a 22-acre cattle ranch in Rutherford, Calif., into a person of Napa Valley’s top wineries, alongside the way helping to propel the when-obscure region to global viticultural stardom, died on April 26 in Napa. He was 92.

His demise, in a clinic, was verified by his son Dennis, the chairman of Cakebread Cellars.

Mr. Cakebread, an automobile mechanic with a sideline in photography, was returning from a shoot in northern Napa County when he compensated a check out in 1972 to a couple of family members good friends at their farm in Rutherford. He was 42 several years outdated and only vaguely curious about what a lifestyle over and above car repair service may appear like.

“I said to them just extremely casually, ‘You know, if you at any time want to sell this put, enable me know,’ and I drove dwelling,” he claimed in an interview with the journalist Sally Bernstein. “I obtained residence and the telephone was ringing.”

The up coming working day Mr. Cakebread and his wife acquired the farm with a $2,500 down payment. The two partners drew up the deal on a yellow legal pad.

At the time, Napa was far from the vinous paradise it is these days. The region’s farmers generally raised cattle or grew apricots, almonds and walnuts. Only a couple dozen wineries dotted the valley.

1 of them, launched by Robert Mondavi in 1966, was just up the street. Mr. Mondavi arrived from a winemaking family, and he turned a mentor to an whole generation of Napa winemakers who obtained their start off in the 1970s, like the Cakebreads.

With Mr. Mondavi’s counsel, Mr. Cakebread pioneered numerous of the methods that came to define high-close Napa wines, previously mentioned all a shut awareness to the agricultural facet of winemaking. Although he was a excellent admirer of technological know-how — he was amongst the initial to use a neutron probe to evaluate soil moisture — he also insisted on receiving his hands filthy, growing just about every early morning ahead of dawn to get the job done in his vineyards.

“Every day anything new will come up, aerial imaging, etc.,” he told The Santa Rosa Press Democrat in 2004, “but the only way you really know is to depart footprints in the winery. Not tire tracks. Footprints.”

Cakebread Cellars offered its initially wines, a mere 157 conditions (1,884 bottles) of chardonnay produced from bought grapes, in 1974. At the very same time, the Cakebreads planted sauvignon blanc vines on their new plot. It was a bold decision: The grape was mainly mysterious among American drinkers, and planting it in Napa was virtually unheard-of.

“When we put in sauvignon blanc, everybody imagined we were being mistaken,” Mr. Cakebread advised The Boston World in 1984. “But we made a decision to make only wines we appreciated to consume, since that’s what we would do if they did not offer.”

It was no blunder. Alongside with Cakebread’s fruit-ahead yet well balanced chardonnay, sauvignon blanc grew to become a signature wine, and it helped drive the varietal’s surging popularity amid American wine shoppers.

However, it took practically two decades prior to the Cakebreads could commit to the winery entire time till then they labored at their garage, in Oakland, and commuted north on the weekends. They eventually sold the garage in 1989 and moved to Rutherford.

Currently Cakebread is one of America’s most very regarded wineries, on a regular basis topping an annual poll by Wine & Spirits magazine of the most well known models amid main places to eat. It controls 1,600 acres of land and claims it sells about 100,000 conditions a yr.

In time, Mr. Cakebread assumed a thing of the function that Mr. Mondavi had at the time played, mentoring youthful winemakers and shepherding the community all around Rutherford. He served as president of the Napa Valley Vintners Association (as did two of his sons, Bruce and Dennis), and quite a few of his previous staff members now guide wineries of their individual.

“Jack was this terrific sage,” stated David Duncan, the chief executive of Silver Oak Cellars in nearby Oakville, which his father founded the similar 12 months Mr. Cakebread commenced his vineyard. “He was constantly so welcoming, and so passionate about the community.”

John Emmett Cakebread was born on Jan. 11, 1930, in Oakland. His father, Lester, owned Cakebread’s Garage, a mend shop, wherever his mom, Cottie, also worked.

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

Jack attended the University of California, Berkeley, but did not graduate. He served in the Air Power for the duration of the Korean War, assigned to the Strategic Air Command as a jet motor mechanic.

After his support, he returned to the garage, which he took above just after his father retired. He also took up images.

What started as a passion turned into an avocation, primarily right after he commenced attending workshops led by the landscape photographer Ansel Adams. Inside a several decades, Mr. Adams reliable Mr. Cakebread more than enough that he had him teach some of his lessons.

Mr. Cakebread eventually drew the notice of an editor at Crown Publishers, who commissioned him to acquire the images for “The Treasury of American Wines,” by the wine aficionado Nathan Chroman. When the guide was revealed in 1973, it featured almost every single commercial vineyard in the state — all 130 of them. Now there are some 11,000.

It was the e-book venture that despatched Mr. Cakebread to Napa on that working day in 1972, and it was the progress he gained for it that furnished the money for the down payment on the cattle ranch.

Mr. Cakebread shifted his artistic attention to winemaking, but he under no circumstances abandoned pictures: Yrs later, he could nonetheless be found toting a Minox camera about the vineyard.

Jack and Dolores Cakebread progressively pulled back from day-to-day management in the 2000s, ceding control to their sons Bruce and Dennis. But they remained active: Mrs. Cakebread ran an once-a-year workshop introducing cooks to winemaking, when Mr. Cakebread grew to become a regular at company universities, lecturing about the small business of winemaking.

Between his terms of advice was endurance.

“I’ve understood that climate is heading to do what it is going to do,” he told The Press Democrat. “I only fret about the items I can modify, I really do not stress about what I can’t.”

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

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