Dennis Cakebread of Cakebread Cellars has begun a new venture to please palates with delicious wines from a new Washington based winery called Mullan Road Cellars. Cakebread, with many decades of accomplished work in the winery industry in Napa Valley, including past accolades such as serving on the board of The Wine Institutes and as President of the Napa Valley Vintners, has expanded his reach from Napa and like Lieutenant John Mullan, has come to Walla Walla to prosper and spread his legacy.
-Tell us a bit about how you chose the name of your winery?
As I looked for a place the for ‘new venture’ I explored Oregon and ended up visiting Walla Walla and Eastern Washington. Both were very attractive as potential sites. I enjoy Oregon Pinot’s and could easily see the possibilities. When I visited some friends in the wine industry who are based in Walla Walla, it reminded me of the town of Napa from 30 years ago. From a newcomer’s eye it was developing into a wine town, with a wine culture and had already established a core of fine wine, was developing fine restaurants and was very laid back.
And the lingering question in my mind was “Why was Walla Walla located there rather than out on the Columbia River?” As I explored the question one weekend in January (it had snowed so I was mostly stuck in town) and visited all the museums, it became apparent that the Historic Mullan Wagon Road was a main contributor. Thus naming the winery after the historic road made sense to me.
Not many people know that Washington State is the second largest wine growing state in America. It produces many fine wines and continues to develop a following among knowledgeable wine aficionados. There are a number of fine wine producers who have histories of more than 30+ years. What a great culture to join and be a participant in.
-Why did you choose to name the brand after Lieutenant John Mullan?
I named the wine after the 600+ mile long Mullan Road. It was built by 200 men, the first wagon road over the Continental Divide, constructed in 18 months. I thought that was a spectacular achievement, especially given the times and comparing it to how long our roads take to build today. The road itself is in the National Registry of Historic Places. It ran from the top of the Missouri River (Fort Benton Montana) to the top of the Columbia (Fort Walla Walla) and led to Walla Walla becoming the largest city in the Pacific Northwest.
-How do you believe John Mullan represents Mullan Road Cellars as a company?
The first wagon road to cross the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Northwest represents Mullan Road Cellars as a company because it celebrates how Walla Walla and the surrounding area came to be settled. This same pioneering spirits is representative of our Washington winemaking philosophy. Washington is as rich in history and culture as it is in terroir, all of which make for world-class winemaking.
-What do you recommend pairing with the Red Blend?
We are proud of the wines we are making. Our winemaker Aryn Morrell is skilled at taming the tannins that easily occur in Washington red wines to make an elegant and fully flavored red wine blend. I enjoy it with most all foods, from grilled wild salmon to my favorite which is a grilled rib eye steak.
-Why is this wine described as 'adventurous'?
I think this is an apt description based on the adventure of starting a new venture in a new area. Learning the region and meeting the people has been a grand adventure.
-How are your Washington State wines different from your Napa wines?
Start with the geography, latitude, climate, soils, slope; and then local knowledge and talent. It is all different from Napa. Washington has been interesting for me to learn. Most vineyards there are planted on ‘own roots’ as opposed to grafted. Irrigation is the norm on extremely well drained soils. The extended sunlight hours during the summer pose both challenges and benefits. There are no Spring frost concerns because the cold soils delay bud break, but there are times Fall frost causes harvest challenges. Trellising is a science still being explored as is row direction.
-What has been the most difficult part of getting Mullan Road Cellars off the ground?
Starting from scratch in a new region is always a challenge. While many people have been very helpful with advice and sharing their experiences, it also comes down to our learnings and building experiences. Our winemaker Aryn Morrell has been very helpful and a key to getting the project started. There are many licenses and permits needed which take time and patience.
-Is there anything that you’d like to share with our readers about Mullan Road Cellars?
The wines are great (ok, I’m biased). Our wine scores from our first vintage to our current vintage have all been between 90 and 94 from well-respected reviewers such as the Wine Advocate.