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Cakebread Cellars & Their Surprising Relationship with Photographer Ansel Adams: Pursuitist Q&A

Cakebread Cellars & Their Surprising Relationship with Photographer Ansel Adams: Pursuitist Q&A

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dennis_cakebreadIn case you didn’t know, yesterday was National Wine Drinking Day, and tomorrow is the birthday of famed photographer Ansel Adams. What do these two things have in common, you ask?

Cakebread Cellars, the well-known Napa area luxury wine producer. We chatted with Dennis Cakebread, VP of Sales and Marketing for the brand, to learn the surprising relationship between art and wine at Cakebread for this issue of Pursuitist Q&A

We hear that Ansel Adams was indirectly responsible for helping kick off what is now an iconic name in wine, Cakebread Cellars. Can you share the story with us?

Our parents (Jack and Dolores Cakebread) began this journey in the most unlikely of ways. Dad is actually a mechanic by trade, and used to own Cakebread Garage in Oakland. During his time off, he loved to take photographs of places we’d visit throughout California as kids. To further hone his skills, he spent several summers in Yosemite with Ansel Adams at week long symposiums, and later worked with Ansel in his personal studio, learning advanced techniques in developing and printing film. Jack’s reputation as a photographer helped him land a job taking pictures of the Napa Valley in the early 70s for a book profiling many of the area’s early winemaking families and growers. His adoration for the region grew, and after falling in love with a small, twenty-two acre ranch in Rutherford owned by some old family friends (which is now where the Cakebread Cellars winery sits), offered everything he had at the time (a $2,500 check for his photo work) to start the new wine business.  The rest, as they say, is history.

 How long were Jack and Ansel acquainted? 

Dad and Ansel knew each other for many years, first as a student of Ansel’s, and later when they worked together in Ansel’s studio.

Photo By Jack Cakebread In The Style of Ansel Adams

Why does the winery now want to celebrate Adams’ birthday?

It’s been a long time in the works. Ansel’s unique relationship with Jack has been relatively unknown to many, but is such a fun element to our history. After years of going through negatives, restoring slides and cameras, it has finally all come together.

For Ansel’s birthday, we will be paying tribute to his legacy by unveiling for the very first time an exhibit of Jack’s work, which was influenced by Adams’ guidance. Jack’s photos will be on display at the winery for a limited time, debuting in time to celebrate what would have been the iconic photographer’s 114th birthday.

Ansel Adams credit Jack Cakebread
A rare photo of the photographer himself. Ansel Adams, in a photo taken by Jack Cakebread.

What influenced Jack the most about Adams’ work?

Jack learned how to see things differently.  How to think ahead of the picture itself and to focus on how the photo would be exposed and developed. Ansel was the genius who developed the ‘zone system’ of black and white photography, and he was honored to learn from him personally, and then to get to work with him. He also used to work with Ansel in his basement darkroom on Saturdays, soaking up all the seemingly endless, small details that went into making an exceptional print.

Has any of his style helped change the way you make wine?

His attention to detail, and the idea that many small steps add up to a great result, played a big role in our approach to Cakebread Cellars.

Jack Cakebread
Photo of Jack Cakebread

What can we expect from Cakebread in 2016? Any exciting new releases or big year vintages coming to market?

Well, 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of our head winemaker, Julianne Laks, and we couldn’t be more grateful for everything she’s done for the winery. She’s become an extension of our family and has done such a tremendous job of guiding our winemaking style. She’s also responsible for the award-winning winemaking behind our premier label, Dancing Bear Ranch (which received 99 points from Robert Parker, Jr. for the 2012 vintage).