Julianne Laks was appointed Cakebread Cellars’ winemaker in 2002, becoming only the third winemaker in the winery’s 40-year history and the only non-family member to hold the position. She joined Cakebread in 1986 as a part-time enologist, later becoming full time – and then, assistant winemaker to Bruce Cakebread. Julianne was promoted to winemaker when Bruce became president and COO, succeeding his father, Jack.
While Julianne’s winemaking skills may have qualified her for the position, it was her passion and intimate understanding of the vineyards that enabled her to follow in Bruce’s footsteps. Even her childhood experiences seemed to point her toward a career in winemaking.
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, she had an affinity for chemistry and loved conducting science and baking experiments in her parents’ kitchen. Julianne’s father was an engineer who worked with wineries, and Julianne and her siblings frequently accompanied their father on visits to wine country.
In 1977 Julianne graduated from University of California at Davis, and was one of only two women to earn a degree in fermentation science that year. Julianne took a full-time lab position at Beringer, where she had the opportunity to work closely with Myron Nightingale and learn the art of blending. She then moved to an enologist position at Beaulieu Vineyards, where she stayed four years before leaving to start a family. During this tenure, she met André Tchelistcheff, whose influence led her to the realization that wine was a living thing, constantly changing and evolving with its environment.
At Cakebread Cellars, Julianne enjoys the challenge that each vintage presents – and the freedom she’s allowed to pursue in the crafting of fine wines. Julianne is credited with formalizing the historical tracking of wines – a technique that records wine analysis and sensory evaluation to show vintage trends in each vineyard. This information is then used to make decisions and changes in farming, harvest timing and fermentation procedures for the following year. She also keeps up with the latest technical developments by attending ongoing seminars at UC Davis, and values the sharing of information with fellow members of the Napa Valley Wine Technical Group and Women for WineSense. Her job has taken her to France in the pursuit of barrels and Portugal for corks – and next, to Chile and Argentina to meet with winemakers and learn first-hand what’s new in those regions.
Julianne looks for balance in wines . . . and in life. At home, she enjoys gardening and entertaining. Over the years she has taken inspiration from Cakebread’s culinary traditions, with their popular cooking classes and annual American Harvest Workshops. And she remains ever-inspired by the sensory delights of pairing wines and food.