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2016-03-01 / Wine Notes

A Family Affair

Robert D. Richards, CSW

Napa Valley is a storied stretch of land nestled between two sets of mountains in northern California. Most of the valley floor is dotted with vineyards — carefully aligned rows of grapes that contribute to the picturesque landscape and the world-class wine produced in the region.

Some of Napa’s winemaking families have been there for decades. Others have sold their wineries to larger beverage conglomerates, and who can blame them? Land they purchased for about $300 per acre in the 1970s now sells for several hundred thousand per acre — a nice return on investment.

Yet for some of those families, winemaking is more than a profit center; it is a way of life — family life. Charles Krug Winery is owned by the Peter Mondavi family. After serving in World War II, Peter returned to work at his family’s winery, a place he has worked ever since. His presence was a fixture at the winery until his recent death at the age of 101. His offspring are involved in all aspects of the business.

A few miles south of Krug, Jack and Dolores Cakebread (yes, that’s their surname) started their winery in 1973, after spending years in the auto-repair business in nearby Oakland, California. They planted grapes and a vegetable garden because they recognized that wine is best enjoyed with good food and good friends.

That’s how they still run the business today. Their sons, Bruce and Dennis, do most of the day-to-day operations. Although the winery has no restaurant, it employs two full-time chefs who prepare tasting menus for several wine education seminars for visitors to the winery and teach a vast array of cooking classes — open to the public — throughout the year.

From Cakebread Cellars, make a right, then a left, to find the winery run by John Williams, a transplant from New York. While camping out on what was once a frog farm, he met his business partner, who helped him land a job at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. When it came time to strike out on their own, they called their label, aptly, Frog’s Leap. While his business partner left to start another winery in 1993, John and his family continued to build the Frog’s Leap brand. Today, the Williams clan still runs the winery and continues to make award-winning wine.

Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2013
(#9104, $16.99)
A delightfully crisp wine with hints of peach, melon and a bit of citrus. Consistently well-balanced, this wine is made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, harvested from the winery’s 45 acres that are planted with this grape varietal, and was fermented in stainless steel tanks.

Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay Napa Valley 2013
(#39525, $36.99)
This wine is made with 100% Chardonnay grapes. It has aromas of apple, pear and a touch of melon. It spends just enough time in oak barrels to exhibit those notes without being overpowering to the grape.

Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2011
(#33662, $29.99)
The cold and wet growing season in Napa in 2011 was not kind to the valley’s signature Cabernet crop, but you wouldn’t know it when tasting this gem. The Cab grapes were augmented with a touch of Cabernet Franc and Merlot to create a rich, earthy taste and mouthfeel.


Robert D. Richards, CSW, is a Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators and has passed the first-level certification of the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers.

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