“When we put in sauvignon blanc, everybody thought we were mistaken,” Mr. Cakebread told The Boston Globe in 1984. “But we decided to make only wines we liked to drink, because that’s what we would do if they didn’t sell.”
It was no mistake. Along with Cakebread’s fruit-forward yet balanced chardonnay, sauvignon blanc became a signature wine, and it helped drive the varietal’s surging popularity among American wine consumers.
Still, it took almost two decades before the Cakebreads could commit to the winery full time; until then they worked at their garage, in Oakland, and commuted north on the weekends. They finally sold the garage in 1989 and moved to Rutherford.
Today Cakebread is one of America’s most highly regarded wineries, regularly topping an annual poll by Wine Spirits magazine of the most popular brands among leading restaurants. It controls 1,600 acres of land and says it sells about 100,000 cases a year.
In time, Mr. Cakebread assumed something of the role that Mr. Mondavi had once played, mentoring young winemakers and shepherding the community around Rutherford. He served as president of the Napa Valley Vintners Association (as did two of his sons, Bruce and Dennis), and many of his former employees now lead wineries of their own.
“Jack was this great sage,” said David Duncan, the chief executive of Silver Oak Cellars in nearby Oakville, which his father founded the same year Mr. Cakebread started his winery. “He was always so welcoming, and so passionate about the community.”