Published on May 23rd, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Mullan Road Cellars Founder Dennis Cakebread On Wine, Washington & The Warriors
A relatively-new project from established California vintner Dennis Cakebread, Mullan Road Cellars is part of the charming wine region of Walla Walla, Washington. The nearby area has been producing wine for decades, although it is only just starting to be recognized as world-renowned. More than just an award-winning producer of great wines, Mullan Road Cellars is also available to the public for on-site tastings by appointment, as the very-green vineyard has a tasting room of its own.
I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Dennis Cakebread himself about how he wound up working with wine and plenty more. More on Mullan Road Cellars — which prides itself in “taking the road less traveled” — can be found online at www.mullanroadcellars.com.
How did your family wind up in the wine industry?
Dennis Cakebread: My father was a garage owner and auto mechanic who also always had a passion for photography. When an opportunity arose to work on a book featuring photography of the Napa Valley, he took it. After spending time in Napa working on this project, he was taken by the landscape and was interested in purchasing a ranch to plan his retirement. Around the same time, a family friend was interested in selling their property in Rutherford. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect—he immediately took an advance on his commission from the book in order to purchase the land which would eventually be the start Cakebread Cellars.
Where does the Mullan Road name come from?
Dennis Cakebread: The Mullan Road was the first wagon road to cross the Rocky Mountains. It was built by Lieutenant John Mullan along with 200 men the built the 600-mile road in 18 months of construction time. Mullan Road is in the national registry of historic places and ran through Walla Walla, I named our wine project after this road as it represents the adventurous spirit and tenacity around developing a new wine.
Mullan Road Cellars is part of a road-less-traveled sort of wine region. When did you realize that your local Washington wine region had so many great local vineyards?
Dennis Cakebread: I looked at a number of winegrowing regions before deciding on Washington. It is the second largest wine-growing state and has a history of producing some exciting wines. With a dry climate, the typical Pacific Northwest issues of rainfall were taken out of the equation. So there is lots of sunshine and water is typically supplied by wells or canals. Since it is a relatively new region, there is a decent amount of experimentation going on along with the development of a real wine culture. Finally, the wine industry people there are friends, who are very helpful and fun.
Are people able to walk the Mullan Road?
Dennis Cakebread: You can actually drive and walk along parts of the Mullan Road today. It’s a very historical landmark and important to the local Walla Walla community. Much of it is now paved and part of the highway system.
What is coming up for Mullan Road Cellars?
Dennis Cakebread: We just started setting up appointment-only tastings at our Tasting Room in downtown Walla Walla. The town is picturesque and a great place to spend the afternoon and taste wine.
Do you have a favorite of the vintages?
Dennis Cakebread: Well, we only started the project with the 2012 vintage, so basically I love them all. It is interesting to taste them to see how they are developing. And basically we think we make better wine each year.
When not busy with wine, how do you like to spend your free time?
Dennis Cakebread: I think it is very important to have a variety of interests. So aside from being a full-time Golden State Warriors fan, I enjoy dog training, fly fishing, and sailing along with continuing my education to become a master griller.
Do you have a favorite restaurant near your vineyard?
Dennis Cakebread: The Whitehouse-Crawford in downtown Walla Walla is great, along with T. Mac’s and Saffron. The restaurant scene in Walla Walla continues to grow.
Finally, what was the last concert you attended for fun?
Dennis Cakebread: AC/DC was touring in San Francisco, so we went to that a couple years ago, and it was epic. Upcoming is an event with Cesar Milan — you know, “the Dog Whisperer” — and the last play was a musical, An American In Paris.