Tasting Gallica: Elegant Napa Cabernet

Tasting Gallica: Elegant Napa Cabernet

Tina Gellie takes a look at Gallica, a personal project of former Spottswoode winemaker Rosemary Cakebread.

Rosemary Cakebread has built up a reputation for producing wines characterised by great restraint and elegance, even in opulent years like 2013.

It’s a theme that runs through every aspect of her work – the Gallica project is named after the French rose, and the labels are inspired by Japanese ink prints.

The winery was founded in 2007, following her nine-year tenure as winemaker at Spottswoode between 1997 and 2006.

The original intent of Cakebread’s Gallica project was to focus on Syrah and Grenache, but her portfolio has since diversified thanks to her experience at Spottswoode with Cabernet as well as the quality of the estate vineyard in St Helena and of the bought-in grapes from long-term contract growers.

Her wines now encompass Bordeaux and Rhône varietals, Petite Sirah and, most recently, Albariño.

But Cakebread is best known for her Cabernet Sauvignon. The first commercial vintage was in 2009, from estate and contract fruit in Oakville, Coombesville and St Helena, becoming a single vineyard wine in 2011 when the Oakville Ranch Vineyard was certified organic.

The first four vintages were heavily Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant (96% in 2011), yet Cakebread felt that the splash of Petit Verdot ‘didn’t bring much to the party’ and dropped it in 2012.

The portion of Cabernet Franc then increased to 25%, thanks to her self-confessed love affair with the grape – so much so that she has even bottled some as a varietal wine.

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Gallica Cabernet Sauvignon to try:

Cakebread’s modus operandi

‘I like to pick early,’ says Cakebread. ‘2010 was the coolest vintage we’ve had, and 2011 the wettest. I’m grateful we were on the Oakville plateau in those years, because the grapes wouldn’t have ripened on the valley floor.

‘But you taste these wines now and they are so elegant, graceful and balanced thanks to long, cool growing seasons. If I could guarantee a style of wine like that every year, I’d put up with those weather conditions and disease pressures!’

‘I’m not a lover of 100% new oak; we stay between 65% and 70%. I’m not a fan of heavy toasting either, preferring medium, maybe medium-plus. We’ve always used Ana Sélection, Atelier, Taransaud and Darnajou for our French oak barrels’.

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