|Robert Mondavi Winery 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Louis M. Martini Winery 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. (Supplied)
Rutherford, California - Leading what is easily the umpteenth thousandth tour of his family’s vineyard, Bruce Cakebread races ahead of the group, compelled to explain what makes this site, those grapes and the surrounding area so special.
Cakebread’s green corduroy pants and a brown wool sweater blend into the scenery as he darts into vineyard rows to make a point about how the vines are farmed before returning to the road to propel the visitors further into his estate.
Pausing by a block of Merlot vines, the jovial vintner points out to the group of jetlagged journalists and sommeliers on their first morning in Napa one of his favourite views down the valley, towards Calistoga in the distance. A wide smile crosses his face as he drinks in the scenery. In that moment, he’s so captivated you’d never guess it’s a vista he’s seen virtually every day of his life for the past 40 years.
Such passion is infectious. When Cakebread gestures broadly with his hands to depict how the Napa River bisects the valley, growing from what looks to be a creek in the northern end of the valley to a full blown river, you’re compelled to crane your neck as if you’re charting the waterway with a bird’s eye view.
A decade or so ago, the Napa Valley Vintners used the slogan “To a wine grape, it’s Eden” to describe the region’s affinity for producing remarkable wines. Only this was an Eden that welcomes people to paradise and invites them to tour and taste instead of casting them out for sampling its wares.
The Cakebreads were one of the early instances of come-from-aways drawn to invest in a piece of so-called heaven on Earth. Their father, Jack, spent time photographing the region for a book and mentioned a desire to relocate to some friends. A day later, they acquired a ranch in Rutherford and started Cakebread Cellars in 1973 with 157-case production of Chardonnay.
Since then, a steady stream of American and European investors have come to pursue the dream of the good life of wine. There are many other places in California where winemaking is a much more affordable pursuit.
Napa’s small size, yet big reputation, makes it an expensive prospect for people looking to buy land or wine lovers wishing to purchase a bottle. Wines in California can sell for as little as $2.50 per bottle, as is the case for Trader Joe’s widely known Charles Shaw label, a.k.a. Two Buck Chuck. Bottles sporting the Napa Valley appellation on its label, however, typically start at $20.
Those premium prices demand that something special had better be in the bottle. Which, arguably, is where the love of the land comes in. “When a winemaker chooses to be here,” Cakebread says, “they are aiming to be at the top of their game.”
Wines of the Week:
Robert Mondavi Winery 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
BC $39.99 (255513) | AB $40 | MB $43.99 (255513) | ON $34.95 (255513)
One of the pioneering properties of the Napa Valley continues to be a mecca for tourists. The Mondavi family is no longer involved in the operation, but the winemaking team is headed by veteran staff who maintain the complex, age-worthy style. This dry, savoury red is worth the splurge. Cellar for two or three years or decant and serve with steak for best enjoyment.
Louis M. Martini Winery 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California
BC $19.99 (651679) | AB $20 | ON $18.95 (292151)
The Martini Winery is one of Napa’s oldest estates. Now owned by the Gallo family, the portfolio has expanded to include more affordable wines produced outside of the Napa Valley. This easy-drinking Cabernet offers pleasant fruit and vanilla aromas and flavours.