One of the inspiring family stories in wine, the Cakebread family is one of the pioneering families in Napa. Dennis and his brother, Bruce, have helped Cakebread celebrate over 40 years in wine. Dennis began his wine business career while studying accounting at CAL Berkeley, when he and his two brothers would help out at the family winery founded in 1973 by Jack and Dolores Cakebread. After decades of great success with helping market Cakebread Cellars internationally and domestically, in 2012 a winery project many years in the making was formed as Dennis started producing a Bordeaux style wine from Washington. With superstar winemaker Aryn Morell in charge of the winemaking, Mullan Road Cellars was conceived and has subsequently been greeted with some great critical acclaim. I recently had the great opportunity to sit down with Dennis Cakebread and talk about Mullan Road. He talked about his inspirations to start this winery and I think you will very much enjoy hearing more about his story in wine. Here is my interview with Dennis Cakebread, founder of Mullan Road Cellars
WWB: How were you first inspired to start Mullan Road Cellars in 2012? Can you talk about the inspiration behind the name?
DC: We have known that we would be looking for a new wine project since the early 90’s, as part of a long term strategic plan. I had been looking at different regions for a number of years and visited Walla Walla. After visiting with some friends and tasting the wines, I became more focused on the area.
The story behind the name is that the Mullan Road was the first wagon road to cross the Rocky Mountains. It was built by Lieutenant John Mullan, who led that effort to cross the continental divide, which resulted in the 612-mile long road. The Mullan Road now runs through Walla Walla’s winemaking region to Fort Benton in Montana. We named our wine project after this road, which represents the adventurous spirit and tenacity around developing such a momentous historical landmark.
WWB: How different is it producing top Cabernet in Washington opposed to producing Napa Cabernet?
DC: It’s not so much the differences that interested me, but the similarities between the two regions. Many think Washington as a wet, rainy climate. But in fact Eastern Washington is actually quite dry. The Cascades cause most of the moisture to drop on the western side (think Seattle), leaving the eastern side relatively rain free; less than eight inches of rain fall in that region a year. With warm, summer days, and more sunlight than even Napa valley sees, along with coolness provided by elevation, there are ideal growing conditions for elegant wines.
WWB: How were you drawn to utilizing the talents of superstar winemaker Aryn Morell?
DC: It was through a recommendation in Washington, existing contacts and new friendships that I met Aryn Morell. When I was first introduced to Aryn, it was a good match. He has become a great winemaker for this journey.
WWB: You’ve earned an international reputation for great Chardonnay at Cakebread Cellars. Do you have any interest in producing a broad range of wines at Mullan Road?
DC: Right now our focus is on perfecting our primary product, the Bordeaux blend.
WWB: What is your cellar like and what are some of your favorite wines of the world?
DC: Most of my friends are in the wine industry, so I have a nice collection of Napa Valley and now Washington wines. Who could ask for more?