Cakebread Cellars, one of the great Napa Valley estate wineries, celebrated the 10th anniversary of their most premium label Dancing Bear Ranch with the release of their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, a vintage receiving 99 points from wine critic Robert Parker.
I was one of the guests at a vertical tasting of each vintage – 2002-2012 – at Dancing Bear Ranch atop Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain to mark the milestone. A booklet in front of me containing notes on each year, including weather conditions, what percentage of Merlot or Cabernet Franc were added to massage the wine to just the right balance by winemaker extraordinaire Julianne Laks, and then room for my comments. Also in front of me was a spittoon of sorts. It felt like sacrilege to expectorate even an ounce of these magnificent wines but I relented for fear of ending up horizontal from this vertical tasting.
Taking “tasting notes” whether it’s during a world-class vertical tasting with the winemakers themselves, or simply at home with a good bottle of wine – using forms found in many wine books – can enhance the experience and develop a deeper appreciation for all the effort that goes into the bottle. Another way is through set wine pairing dinners where world-class sommeliers such as Kelli White at Press in St. Helena, or Chef Ken Frank at La Toque in the Westin Verasa in Napa, will team up great wines with great courses.
Overseeing the tasting were Bruce and Dennis Cakebread, sons of Jack Cakebread who founded Cakebread Cellars in the early 1970s. Dennis serves as vice chairman and senior vice president of sales and marketing while Bruce holds the reigns as president and COO.
After an amazing night of vertical tasting at Dancing Bear Ranch it was time to get horizontal, and the boutique Wydown Hotel on the main street in St. Helena was the perfect place to do it.
Before calling it a night, I watched the movie “Somm,” the documentary about four sommeliers attempting to pass the Master Sommelier exam. While it’s unlikely that I’ll ever develop the depth of knowledge and sophisticated palette of these wine experts, I felt like one, at least for a night, on the magical vineyard-covered slopes of Howell Mountain in Napa.
Photographs and Text © Mark Edward Harris
Mark Edward Harris Photographer Bio
Mark Edward Harris’ editorial work has appeared in publications such as Vanity Fair, Life, GEO, Conde Nast Traveler, GQ Thailand, Tatler Russia, The Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, and The London Sunday Times Travel Magazine as well as all the major photography and in-flight magazines. His commercial clients range from The Gap to Coca-Cola to Mexicana Airlines. He is the recipient of numerous awards including a CLIO, ACE, Aurora Gold, and Photographer of the Year at the Black & White Spider Awards. His books include Faces of the Twentieth Century: Master Photographers and Their Work, The Way of the Japanese Bath, Wanderlust, North Korea, South Korea, and Inside Iran. North Korea was named Photography Book of the Year at the 2013 International Photography Awards.
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