Julianne Laks

Julianne Laks

Cakebread Cellars (Winemaker Emerita)

Julianne Laks had some 40 years of professional experience in the wine industry and retired at the end of 2017 after a 31-year career at Cakebread Cellars.

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. Her family moved to the Napa Valley when she was quite young, and she fell in love with wine. Her father served as a winery engineer for Robert Mondavi Winery, and he taught her about winery design and layout for energy conservation.

Julianne pursued her love of wine by earning a B.S. in fermentation science in 1977 from the University of California, Davis, where she was one of only two women to earn that degree the year she graduated. She then accepted a full-time position at Beringer Vineyards in Napa where she had the opportunity to work alongside the late Myron Nightingale and learn the fine art of blending. She also got to know Andre Tschelicheff while working as an enologist at Beaulieu Vineyard for four years before leaving to start her family. She admired his passion for winemaking and his intimate knowledge of the vineyards, and his influence led her to the realization that wine is a living thing, constantly changing and evolving with its environment.

She joined Cakebread Cellars in 1986 as a part-time lab technician, later becoming an enologist and an assistant winemaker under winemaker Bruce Cakebread. In 2002, Julianne was promoted to winemaker at Cakebread when Bruce became president and chief operating officer, succeeding his father, Jack, who continued as chairman and CEO of the winery. Julianne was only the third winemaker in Cakebread’s history, serving in this position until her retirement, and the only non-family member to hold this position. Although 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. She produced Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel, among other varietals at Cakebread Cellars.

Julianne enjoyed the challenge that each vintage presented – and the freedom she was allowed to pursue in the crafting of fine wines. She 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 kept up with the latest technical developments by attending on-going seminars at UC Davis, and valueed the sharing of information with fellow members of the Napa Valley Wine Technical Group and Women for WineSense. Her job took her to France in the pursuit of barrels and Portugal for corks — and to Chile and Argentina to meet with winemakers and learn first-hand what was new in those regions.

Julianne looked 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.