Another California winery has gone knocking on Washington’s door, following recent purchases of established brands by E. & J. Gallo and Foley Family Wines, and a joint venture between Charles & Charles and Trinchero Napa Valley. Cakebread Cellars, a Napa Valley stalwart for four decades, is launching Mullan Road, a wine made with grapes purchased from Walla Walla’s Seven Hills vineyard.
At an informal tasting of 2012 barrel samples from over two dozen wineries that purchase Seven Hills fruit, Wine Enthusiast chatted with Dennis Cakebread, vice president of sales and marketing, and Aryn Morell, Cakebread Cellars winemaker. The first Mullan Road wine—a Bordeaux-style blend—is being made at Artifex Wine Company, a custom crush facility in Walla Walla.
Cakebread expressed great enthusiasm for the new project, the first step in what could evolve into a full-fledged winery. Working in the new territory surrounded by the likes of Gary and Chris Figgins (Leonetti Cellar), Norm McKibben (Pepper Bridge) and Marty Clubb (L’Ecole No 41) has been inspirational, he says. “It’s nice working in such a collegial environment,” says Cakebread.
He also noted that Cakebread Cellars’s production had more or less topped out in 2005—a fortuitous time to halt expansion, given the struggles many wineries had faced in the recent economic downturn. But their current winning streak may indeed continue. The 2012 vintage was an exceptional one in Walla Walla Valley. The components that may eventually comprise the 2012 Mullan Road are already showing deep fruit flavors and toasty highlights from barrel aging.
Yet one question still remains: What inspired the name?
As a self-described “history buff,” Cakebread wanted to honor U.S. Army Lieutenant John Mullan. In 1859–1860, Mullan commanded a group of soldiers, surveyors and engineers to build a wagon road from Fort Benton, Montana to Fort Walla Walla.