Success in the wine world, as in any other industry, is appreciated and celebrated. But there’s a certain sense of wonder and innocence in the early days that possess a magic all their own. Often times it’s difficult to recapture that spirit. One pioneering California winemaker has done just that in Washington with his newest wine project, Mullan Road Cellars.
The Cakebread family began their storied journey in Napa Valley in 1973. Under the second generation of Dennis and his brother, Bruce, the Cakebread name has grown from a fledgling dream of their parents to a prominent producer synonymous with the world-class reputation of California wine.
As early as the 1990s, Cakebread Cellars was looking outside its home state to other wine regions. In 2010, Dennis Cakebread made his first trip to Walla Walla.
“The whole project takes me back many years to when Cakebread Cellars was just a couple people working hard and enjoying the project,” Cakebread says. “It has been incredibly enjoyable to meet new people in Washington and get to know them as I work with the growers and other winemakers on the project.”
The right mix of climate, terroir and opportunity piqued his interest in this eastside, wine-centric town but, he says that it was the community and culture he encountered that won him over. When Cakebread was introduced to Washington State native, Aryn Morrell, he knew he’d found his winemaker, and together they began a journey akin to the wine’s namesake.
During the late 1850s, a group of determined men, led by Lieutenant John Mullan, carved the first wagon road into the Pacific Northwest through the Rocky Mountains. It was through the process of forging these first vineyard relationships for a new label that Cakebread and Morrell felt the connection to Lt. Mullan.
Mullan Road’s flagship wine, the 2012 Red Wine Blend, is a Bordeaux-style blend sourced from select Columbia Valley vineyards. Although he feels the 2013 and 2014 vintages give greater insight into what Washington terroir can bring to a bottle, Cakebread says he appreciates that he’s been fortunate to work with such exceptional growing seasons right out of the gate.
“Like with all agriculture, we’re at the mercy of Mother Nature, so each year differs,” Cakebread says. “Our 2013 vintage came in earlier than our debut vintage due to a warmer summer and our 2014 vintage was much more fruit-forward than past vintages. Because Mullan Road Cellars is a blend, we have some more flexibility in the winemaking process.”
For Mullan Road, Washington’s climate and terroir is ideal for Bordeaux varietals. It is Cakebread’s vision to create an elegant and age-worthy wine that showcases the best of the region. In addition to their blend, Mullan Road has offered a limited-release 2012 Cabernet Franc — sourced from Seven Hills Vineyard — and a 2013 Merlot.
Currently, the winery is produced at a custom crush facility. They may have their own local vines in the future but the immediate focus is on growing the brand and being a part of what Cakebread refers to as a “wonderful culture.”
“I simply hope to make a memorable and enjoyable wine that helps shine a light on a region with an incredibly rich heritage,” he says. “Washington State not only has an extremely close and passionate winemaking community, but it has been consistently producing quality wine for decades. I hope, through Mullan Road Cellars, people recognize just how special of a place Washington is for wine.”