Dennis Cakebread Talks Washington Wine & Mullan Road Cellars

While the Cakebread family name is most notably associated with Napa Valley, Dennis Cakebread has been exploring opportunities in wine making elsewhere as well. In an effort to expand his reach within the wine industry, yet maintain small-production and hands-on quality, Dennis stumbled on the Washington State wine region of Walla Walla in 2010.

We spoke briefly with Dennis to understand more about his Washington winery, dubbed Mullan Road Cellars.

Where in Washington State does Mullan grow its wine?

We grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec fruit from prime leased vineyards in the soon-to-be recognized Royal Slope appellation. Our fruit also comes from famed Seven Hills Vineyard, one of the first vineyards planted on the Southern edge of the Walla Walla appellation in 1980, and one of the most recognized vineyards in Washington.

RELATED: Learn About Washington State’s Columbia Valley Wine Region

Can you give a summary of this region/sub-region, what grapes grow here and why they do so well?

Washington state’s climate and terroir is ideal for Bordeaux varietals. With impressive tannins and great structure, one of the challenges is to tame the monsters to create a balanced and enjoyable wine. We wanted to create an elegant wine that showcases the best of the region that is elegant and age-worthy; we felt the best way to do that was with a blend.

Dennis Cakebread Wine Industry and Mullan Road Cellars | Winetraveler.com
Seven Hills Vineyard, Milton Freewater, Oregon.

Are there any unique wine making practices you can talk about that you employ?

Our winemaking team takes a minimalist, more hands-off approach to winemaking. A lot of effort is placed in where and how the grapes are grown. Filtered sunlight with enough shade to protect against heat and sunburn are very important. Some fruit is picked at night so that we can start the fermentation process with cool fruit. We utilize both stainless steel tanks and concrete tanks as we look to tame the tannins and develop complexity. We believe it is important to focus on the land and grapes first and foremost; that is the key to making a balanced, well-rounded wine.

Given the location of your winery, what do you recommend visitors do in and around the area in addition to wine tasting? Restaurants? Seasonal events? Sightseeing?

I have always been both impressed and intrigued with Washington’s quality grapes, winemaking history and the wine community’s camaraderie, that is what originally drew me to the area. One can really experience that in the town of Walla Walla. It’s quaint and communal and right by our winery, where we just started offering tastings by appointment only. I suggest coming in the springtime, when the weather is nice to walk around town, visit local restaurants, and it’s also when the annual Auction of Washington Wines (happening this April) occurs.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dennis Cakebread is a 40+ year veteran of Napa Valley, where his family built the prestigious Cakebread Cellars from scratch beginning in 1973. He has been active in wine industry groups including stints as president of the Napa Valley Vintners and has served on the boards of The Wine Institute, Family Winemakers of California, and WineAmerica. He is co-founder and board member of Free the Grapes, is a previous board member and treasurer of the Coalition for Free Trade, and is past president and board member of the Wine Market Council. He is currently on the board at American AgCredit.

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