Julianne Laks of Cakebread Cellars: Quietly Standing Out
Interviewer & Writer:
Uncorked Monthly Contributing Writer, Kim Brittingham
There aren’t too many winemakers like Julianne Laks.
Despite a demure air of elegance, she’s quite the stand-out. Going back to 1977, she was one of only two women to graduate from the University of California at Davis that year with a degree in fermentation science.
Directly out of college, Laks went to work part-time for Cakebread Cellars and was eventually appointed winemaker in 2002 – a pretty big deal in itself, as she is the only non-family member to serve there as winemaker.
Clearly, the Cakebreads have a gem in Laks, and the feeling is mutual. “I feel honored to work with them,” says Laks. “They’re a great family, and they have always put quality first. I really believe in that. That’s why I’ve been here so long.”
She loved to experiment in the kitchen
In exploring Laks’ history, one can detect hints of her eventual profession expressing themselves all the way back to girlhood, when she loved to experiment in the kitchen. “I always liked a combination of different ingredients and spices, and just trying to pick it apart through flavor, and aroma, and texture,” says Laks. “Then when I went to school and realized there was the whole industry of winemaking, I really thought that I could apply my sensitivity to all of these things through winemaking, and through the chemistry of it as well.”
Like most winemakers with well-developed palates, Laks maintains an appreciation for cuisine, and in particular, a keen interest in how it can be optimally paired with wine. At Cakebread, says Laks, “We have two resident chefs and a full garden that they source vegetables and fruits from. So we have a big program of wine and food. It’s always really interesting and fascinating to me – the combinations of what the chefs put together. Then we work together on recipes, for combining the wine with it…It keeps me very engaged in what I always loved to do as a young girl.”
Wine blends to pique the interest of even the worldliest wine drinker
Cakebread Cellars offers an array of wines, including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Laks also creates wine blends to pique the interest of even the worldliest wine drinker.
Take, for example, Cakebread’s 2013 Rubaiyat, which is a blend of 86% cool-climate Pinot Noir, and 14% Syrah from Cakebread’s Suscol Springs Ranch, another cool southern Napa Valley site.
According to Cakebread’s own tasting notes, the 2013 Rubaiyat “displays bright, come-hither aromas of toasted black cherry, raspberry, blueberry and red plum fruit coupled with a pleasing vanilla tone and a hint of brown spice. Rich and juicy on the palate, with nicely concentrated blackberry and black cherry flavors well-structured by bright acidity and smooth, round tannins, the wine picks up a zesty spice one on the long, flavorful finish. A perfect companion to hearty foods, Rubaiyat is delicious with grilled burgers, steaks and sausages, barbecued ribs and chicken, and rich, tomato-based pastas.”
Also of note is Cakebread Cellars’ 2012 Guajolote, which Laks says she’s only been making for a couple of years, but which she calls “a special wine”. “Guajolote” means “turkey” in Spanish, a nod to the wild turkeys that roam Cakebread’s estate vineyards at Suscol Springs. Guajolote blends 40% Merlot, 30% Syrah, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1% each of Grenache and Cabernet Franc.
Cakebread’s tasting notes say Guajolote is “redolent of sweet black cherry, black plum and blackberry with notes of earth, dark chocolate and oak vanillin. On the palate, the wine boasts lush dark cherry, pomegranate and cassis flavors, which culminate in a long, savory finish showcasing fine tannins, rich berry fruit and refreshing mineral tones. Delightful to drink now, our 2012 Guajolote will continue developing in bottle for another 2-3 years.”
Says Laks, “(Guajolote) is not a shy wine. It’s a big, sturdy red wine, and it’s really, really beautiful.”
To appreciate the art that is the product of Laks’ passion, instincts and careful attention, you can purchase wines directly at www.CakebreadCellars.com.