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Delhi Wine Club
Bruce of Cakebread Napa

Posted: Wednesday, 30 January 2013 12:05

Passing By: Bruce of Cakebread Napa

Jan 30: After skipping 2012, Bruce Cakebread, President of the family run Napa winery known for super premium wines was back in India last week for his annual visit to meet clients in Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai before returning home via Dubai. Subhash Arora caught up with him for a quiet lunch at the Taj Lands End in Mumbai to exchange the happenings in the Cakebread Cellars and how things were shaping up in India for them

Click For Large ViewWhen I was invited for a dinner with Bruce Cakebread, the President of Cakebread Cellar in Delhi, I was honoured but  very sad since I couldn't be in Delhi during his visit because of a Sicilian delegation of producers I would be taking around for conducting Masterclasses. I quickly sent him a mail asking for his complete schedule in India. I was pleased to find out from him that I would be in Mumbai on January 25th when he would be there too and we had Brindco, his importer for the last 10 years, set up a lunch meeting with him at the Taj Lands End where the hotel was planning a wine dinner that evening.

I have known Bruce for several years now. An easy going personality, he is as passionate about his wines as anyone else in Napa. I know him enough to pull his leg when I meet him and tell him his family was like the Gandhi family in India; his father has been the President of Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) (1990) which had invited me to the annual Premium Auction last year. So was his brother Dennis in 1997. Bruce has been the President once before in 2010 and has become again this year. When I visited Napa last February, the Association boasted around 400 members out of a total of about 500-550 producers. The number is nearing 440 at present; every full time producer seems to be a member.

‘And why not! The chance of taking part in the Annual Auction is a highly prestigious opportunity and you cannot enter unless you are a member’, says Bruce, although being a member does not guarantee participation either (I remember there were only around 200 lots last year, with members in the waiting list). The auction had crossed a sale of over $3 million last year though this year a sum of around $2.8 million is expected; this amount helps the Association run several programs for the members who seem to be the most well-knit group of any other Association (Consorzio in Italy) I have seen- although I may not be qualified to judge based on my stay of only a week in Napa.

There was another reason for Bruce feeling very upbeat. The 2012 has been a great vintage in Napa both from the volume and quality standpoint. Added to that is an interesting phenomenon that is going on in Napa where the millennials (currently aged around 21-28 years) are experimenting with wine and generally having no baggage are fast adding to the wine market. Previously, the boom in the US market was due to the financially well established baby boomers; Bruce belongs to that generation. ‘Our families were not regular wine drinkers. Many of our generation imbibed wine as a lifestyle product as we made a lot of money in real estate and stock market etc. But due to the fall in both the indices, many of these baby boomers have eroded a lot of their assets and are now careful with spending the money lavishly on wine unlike the millennials who grow up with wine being a part of the family and are willing to experiment. Wine has already been a part in their families during the growing up years and is adding to the market for fine wine,’ he explains. 

So what has been the experience in India? ‘Steady optimism’ was his diplomatic answer. ‘What I like is that during the staff training in Delhi people are asking good, specific and intelligent questions and to me it shows a good trend.’ He was also quite happy about his visit to Chennai which is opening up with 7 new hotels coming up soon, thus adding to the customer base. Growth is flat in India but steady. We keep on getting orders for palletized mixed cases every 6 weeks or so and are happy.’ As may be expected, Cakebread is doing much better in China where they entered around 10 years ago with ASE as the distributor. Bruce is also very pleased with the rock solid Hong Kong Market and Dubai where he was headed and which has started getting big investments and is picking up fast.

Click For Large ViewWith a holding of 510 acres, half of the 175,000 case production comes from own vineyards while the other half come from old contracted grape farmers, says Bruce. There is a note of pride in his voice when he says, ‘we don’t produce any entry level wines but only premium wines. Already into the 48th year, we are very happy and proud of our high quality.’ The standard of their quality was evidenced during the 10th year celebratory dinner of the Delhi Wine Club at Hyatt Regency when the Napa Chardonnay was one of the wines served at the sit-down dinner of 250 people and where guests kept on asking for more.

Limited production of Bordeaux blend and non standard blends like Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc from the cool hillside rocky areas are also a part of the expanding wine production repertoire even though they are not a part of the export to India-not yet anyway.

Bruce was quite vociferous about the Napa Greens certification program with 27,000 acres out of 45,000 planted  in Napa already certified. ‘Napa Valley is working as a group in this direction. Together we can make an impact.' Napa Greens Certification is a brainchild of Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) and is an independent third party certificate program designed for saving the fish in the ponds and lakes through sustainable farming. While conceding that saving of fish would be possible only if most of the wineries join the program thus making the effluents less harmful, more and more wineries were joining the programme and as the President of NVV it was one of his priorities to see every member moving in this direction.

Cakebread Cellar continues to promote the Harvest programme it started 27 years ago, in which 5 chefs including one international chef are invited in September just before the harvest, for a cook out in which about 50-60 people have the opportunity to taste the wines with different foods and chefs can experiment with different dishes using different wines. This year a chef from Shanghai would be present, he informs. There was one from Taj Bengal invited 3-4 years ago and he was invited again for the 25th anniversary of the programme a couple of years ago.

I had an opportunity to quickly taste a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and the Napa Cab which is extremely popular with the affluent American wine connoisseurs. All three were of excellent quality though I found the rounded Chardonnay to go best with the chicken sandwich I had ordered so I could try the pairing with all 3 wines. Sauvignon Blanc, as expected, was quite fruity and zingy but a trifle weak for the chicken. Chardonnay was the heavenly match, justifying it as a food wine. Interestingly, I enjoyed the Cabernet Sauvignon as well - though it was a bit tannic for the chicken. I could have carried on experimenting with all three wines but there is only so long that a chicken sandwich can last, alas!

The tasting also reminded me of an earlier visit by their former export manager Karen Cakebread who had wanted me to suggest an Indian match for their Chardonnay. I suspect the oak was much stronger about 6-7 years ago since I found the wine very oak heavy-much heavier than at this tasting or when it was served at the Delhi Wine Club dinner. But I do remember, the Chardonnay had gone very well with the chicken biryani even with the oakiness  and that was my recommended dish to her.

Click For Large ViewBefore you start salivating - you certainly will after taking the first sip (I do  every time I write about it with the image conjuring up in my mind) - you should realize that you would have to shell out Rs. 6211 for a bottle of Cakebread Napa Chardonnay at the Reliance Store in the Market City-Kurla at the Phoenix Mall. Sauvignon Blanc is slightly more affordable at Rs. 4523. Cabernet Sauvignon at Rs.9783 is beyond the reach of an ordinary mortal even in the USA and is considered a special occasion wine. But Bruce is not apologetic about it. ‘My father had decided in the early days that we will not make entry level low-ended wines and make only the wines that would bring Napa Valley a name as the best wines in the world.’

The Cakebread brothers, Bruce and Dennis are continuing with the practice under the appreciative eyes of the father, Jack Cakebread who still comes to the winery regularly for a short time to see how well the tree for which he planted the seed 48 years ago is growing.

Subhash Arora

Tags: Bruce Cakebread, Cakebread Cellars, Brindco, Napa Valley Vintners (NVV), Premium Auction, Consorzio, ASE, Hyatt Regency, Napa Chardonnay, Bordeaux , Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, Napa Greens Certification, Harvest programme, Karen Cakebread, Jack Cakebread


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