Welcome back to my second annual series featuring women in wine who are at the top of their game. This year we have the privilege of hearing from women in various roles – from business operations to vineyard management, cellar masters to winemakers, and even CEOs/Presidents. The accomplishments of women in a male dominated industry is worth celebrating not only on International Women’s Day, but all month and all year for that matter. These amazing women are paving the way for future generations of female leaders and powerhouses in wine. I hope you enjoy learning about their journey and winemaking philosophy and feel as inspired as I do to go after your dreams. Check back here for updates as I continue to roll out these interviews daily on Instagram.
Let’s head over to Rutherford to meet with Stephanie Jacobs, Winemkaer at Cakebread Cellars
Cakebread Cellars is located in the AVA of Rutherford which is south of St Helena and north of Oakville in the heart of Napa Valley. Rutherford is known for it’s moderate -warm temps, morning fog, and ample sunlight. Vines here spend more time in the sun than any other AVA in Napa which leads to a soft, elegant style of wine. Due to it’s unique terrain and proximity to the Mayacamas and Vaca mountains, it’s famous for the “Rutherford Dust” quality in most Cabernet Sauvignons. Cakebread Cellars has deep roots in Rutherford dating back to the 70s – it’s very first release was a 1973 Chardonnay. Since then, the winery has grown to include several vineyards across Napa and even Sonoma. The property is amazing – think modern rustic elegance.
Cakebread has something for every palate: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Rosé, and Pinot Noir. Through sustainable and organic farming, they were only the second winery in California to earn a Napa Green Certification, and they’re also certified as Fish Friendly! It’s inspiring to see these initiatives prioritized. You can truly taste the commitment to terroir and all things sustainable in every sip. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of wines from Cakebread and there are some common attributes: precision, purity, and balance. Investing in a nice bottle of wine can be risky, but with Cakebread you are guaranteed the very best. In addition to exceptional wine, I love the winery’s dedication to promote diversity and inclusion. We are beyond thrilled to celebrate the strong female energy that Stephanie Jacobs brings to the table as winemaker – she is passionate, empowered, and a true leader in wine.
Without further ado, our virtual interview…
Ashley: Do you think there’s a stereotype attached to female winemakers?
Stephanie: I truly believe that if you are passionate at what you do, there is no limit to your success. At Cakebread, I’ve been especially fortunate to grow with a family-owned company that places its core value on the individuals across our team, knowing a strong work/life balance will give us all a chance to reach our full potential. From our co-founder Dolores Cakebread to my Winemaker predecessor Julianne Laks, I’ve had examples that showed I had just as much opportunity as anyone else to make great wine here at Cakebread Cellars.
Ashley: What is one of the hardest things about winemaking year in and year out?
Stephanie: Mother Nature. Wine is a natural, agricultural product, subject to Mother Nature’s challenges. We must be nimble, flexible, and ready to adapt to the changes of each season. In the vineyard, we rely on past experiences and vintages to “predict” how the seasons will develop, but we must be prepared to pivot as challenges and weather events occur. Even my winemaking techniques can change season to season to craft the highest quality wine from each vintage.
The winery is also working hard to better adapt to these shifts due to climate change. From becoming more efficient in our use of water and energy both at the winery and in the vineyards to creating carbon farm plans and composting, sustainability has always been a core tenet of Cakebread Cellars. We were the second winery to become Napa Green certified and last year, became an applicant with the IWCA (International Wineries for Climate Action).
Ashley: How does your typical day evolve with the seasons? Do you have a favorite season?
Stephanie: Winter: Assessing wine quality from the previous harvest, checking on the wines going through malolactic, tasting through the lots and creating the blends, and starting to bottle (Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc)
Spring: Watching for budbreak in the vineyards, finalizing red blends, visiting the vineyards
Summer: Monitoring sugar levels in the grapes, sampling, continuing to bottle wines (Chardonnay & Reds), more frequent visits to the vineyards, starting harvest of our white varietals
Fall: Harvest is in full swing, early mornings at the winery, vineyard visits, continual grape sampling in the vineyards, pressing fruit, pump overs, close monitoring of fermentation, determining barrel program for white and red wines
I love the harvest season! It is so inspiring to see the fruit evolve throughout the growing season and be able to begin to envision the wines we will make. The winery is full of activity and anticipation, no matter how many harvests I have been part of, each year is new and exciting.
Ashley: Were you inspired by other female winemakers when you began your career in making wine?
Stephanie: Definitely. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have strong female winemakers as role models and mentors, who set the expectation that achieving success in the wine industry was something anyone could accomplish if they worked hard and had passion for it. Over the last 10-15 years, I’ve seen more women in the industry, not just as winemakers but also in executive leadership roles. At Cakebread alone, we have had women across our executive team from CFO, VP of Hospitality & DTC to VP of Sales and Marketing.
Ashley: In winemaking, is one thing more important than the other in terms of tradition vs innovation?
Stephanie: I think both are equally important. As a family-owned company, Cakebread prides itself on its long-standing tradition and commitment to consistent, high-quality wines and warm hospitality that the winery was founded on by Jack and Dolores Cakebread in 1973. At the same time, innovation is key and allows us to adapt. Our team continues to evolve its winemaking practices and leverage new technology to further quality and sustainability, from vineyard to cellar.
Stephanie, thank you for taking the time to share your insight with us and walking us through the seasons. We enjoyed learning that Cakebread has so many amazing women in leadership roles! The Social Grapes appreciates the inspired initiatives going on at Cakebread and we look forward to continuing our support for you and the team.