Field Trip to Napa: Oakville Grocery and Cakebread Cellars

Tuesday, 30 Dec 2008


We took a half-day field trip to the Napa Valley today.  This was our first visit to Napa, so the conundrum was what to see in such a short time period.  Thanks to friends and family in the area, we got some good recommendations and hit Oakville Grocery for lunch (super sandwiches, lots of wines and great gourmet grocery store!) and then visited one of our favorite wineries, Cakebread, for a tasting.  We ate our lunch, including this delicious turkey and cranberry sandwich, as a picnic on top of old wine barrels.


The view from behind Oakville Grocery is spectacular.  I discovered what I began to call the “Ziggurat of Wine,” otherwise known as Opus One, the light-colored building you can see in the background of the next photo.


Opus One’s opulent gates and grounds drew us in for a look, although we hadn’t made a tasting appointment.  Up close, I hate to say it, but it kind of reminded me of a mausoleum.  Beautiful but a little cold.  Here’s the impressive gate and drive up to Opus One.


It’s a little travel tradition of ours to take a self-portrait at some point on the trip, so here’s what we came out with. Now, on to the wine tasting.


The entrance to Cakebread Cellars is quite unassuming compared to Opus One’s manicured gate.  In fact, you could miss Cakebread if you don’t know what you’re looking for.


Tastings at Cakebread are by appointment only.  We called ahead and got in for a “Select Tasting of Current Release Wines.” Here’s what we tasted:  2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley; 2007 Chardonnay, Napa Valley; 2006 Chardonnay Reserve, Carneros, Napa Valley; 2006 Rubaiyat, North Coast; 2005 Zinfandel, Red Hills, Lake County; and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.  Of the whites, Matt liked the Sauvignon Blanc and I liked the Reserve Chardonnay.  We both agreed on the red — the Zinfandel was fantastic.  As our tasting guide said, “this one is biiiiiggg.”  Very peppery and full-bodied.  The most interesting and/or surprising wine we tried was the Rubbaiyat, a combination of 83% Pinot Noir, 15% Zinfandel and 2% Syrah.  It’s a very light red, meant to be served a little bit chilled.  The Cakebread wine maker came up with it to drink in the summer while barbecuing!  It was very fruity and the aftertaste immediately reminded me of Welch’s Grape Juice.  No kidding.  It was good, though. Our tasting guide recommended it to serve with turkey at Thanksgiving.


These are the French oak barrels used at Cakebread.  They cost $900-1200 apiece.  The oak smells so good as you walk around the winery.  Knowing the cost of the barrels is even more amazing given that the Cakebread family started the place with $2500!  This was a fun, friendly tasting and I think the Cakebread’s understated but high-quality approach is more impressive than some of the giant, touristy, flashy places around.


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