Why is Cakebread Cellars raising yields?

Bruce Cakebread from Napa’s Cakebread Cellars is raising yields in his reds and increasing the proportion of white wine that goes through MLF – but why?

Cakebread has been picking Chardonnay earlier to lower abvs

At a tasting in London yesterday designed to show the winemaking and viticultural changes taking place at the Californian winery, Bruce Cakebread said that he was increasing the amount of Chardonnay that undergoes the malolactic fermentation – a process after the primary fermentation whereby malic acid present in the grape must, which has a sharp taste, is converted to milder lactic acid by the successive action of various bacteria.

He also told the drinks business that he was converting some of his Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards from spur to cane pruning to get more grape clusters per vine, resulting in yield increases of around 5%.

But bearing in mind the fashion for fresher styles of white wine and concentrated reds, why would Cakebread be making such changes?

It is, he said, motivated by a quest to do one thing: lower alcohol levels.

Because Cakebread has been gradually picking his Chardonnay earlier to lower sugar levels in the grapes, and therefore reduce alcohol levels in the resulting wine, he has also been harvesting berries with higher acids – which is something he doesn’t want.

Bruce Cakebread is making changes in the vineyard and winery to lower alcohol levels, which have gradually risen due to increasingly dry conditions in California

“As we’ve started to pick earlier to keep the abvs lower, the acidities are going up, so we need more MLF to round out the wines,” he said, adding that 10% of Cakebread Chardonnay now undergoes MLF, when “previously”, there was none.

As for the ABVs, he said that the “sweet spot” for his Chardonnay was a level somewhere between 14.1-14.3%, whereas before, he was seeing levels of up to 14.8%.

Noting that it was dryer conditions in California that were causing sugar levels to increase in the grapes, he said that he has started to pick earlier to reduce the number of days the berries stay on the vine.

“If before the number of days from bloom to harvest were 115 to 125, today we are looking for 105 to 115,” he said.

As for the red grapes, he told db, “We are trialling cane pruning with certain blocks of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, because, if we can get 2-4 more clusters per vine, then it slows down the sugar accumulation in the grapes, and that keeps the ABV down.”

Continuing he said, “It doesn’t mean we are over-cropping, the difference is very subtle, our yields might be 5% more, and we are normally 2.5 to 3 tonnes per acre [which is less than 45hl/ha].”

The discussion formed part of a tasting designed to show Cakebread wines from the 2016 vintage, as well as “R&D” work taking place at the winery.

Cakebread said that he conducts such a tasting at Cakebread Cellars at this time every year, but for 2017, decided to also host a similar sampling event in the UK.

“This is the first time we’ve done this outside the winery,” he said, before telling db that he chose to do the tasting in the UK because “there is a lot of interest in wine; there is a real desire to understand what’s going on.”

Cakebread Cellars produce around 175,000 cases annually, with approximately 50% of the grapes sourced from its own vineyards in Californina.

2 Responses to “Why is Cakebread Cellars raising yields?”

  1. Don Clemens says:

    At first glance, these new practices seem eminently reasonable. It’s good to know that such a well-established winery (and brand) as Cakebread is taking on the vexing problem of high abv and balance.

  2. Sean Spencer says:

    Bruce is conducting this tasting in the UK probably because his sales are down & needs something interesting to talk about. Traditionally, they have a recipe for all of their bulk Napa Valley blends and go through the same processes each year and only minor adjustments.

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