Ziata Wines was founded by long time wine industry veteran Karen Cakebread. We first met Karen at her home in Calistoga and tasted several of her early vintages. While Karen was working for Hewlett Packard an opportunity arose to move to Asia. During that time, she worked as an international marketing consultant for Cakebread Cellars when Cakebread was just beginning to export wines to Asia. Upon returning to California, she was faced with the choice of where to work. As Karen says, “Silicon Valley or Napa Valley”? – she obviously chose Napa and worked at Cakebread Cellars from 1989 through 2006. She became their events director and was responsible for their educational, wine, culinary and hospitality programs.
With her long-term involvement tirelessly promoting Napa Valley through the Napa Vintner’s Association (she served on the board for 4 years as well as the steering committee in charge of the annual, Auction Napa Valley), it is only fittingly that she now has her own wine label. When choosing a name for her new project obviously her married name was already taken so she started looking at her family names. Her mother Mary’s maiden name was Annunziata and the name Ziata is a tribute to her (Mary Annunziata Webb passed on in 2014).
She started this label as a way to become involved in all aspects of the vineyard to bottle process as well as the fact that she enjoys a lighter style wine. She says, “I like all wines some of the time but Sauvignon Blanc all of the time”! While Karen began Ziata Wines with two varieties, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir – she has since branched out to producing wines from other varieties including Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and now also makes a red blend.
Karen owns an acre of land in the northern part of the Napa Valley (Calistoga) planted to Sauvignon Blanc – the fruit from this tiny vineyard as well as select other sites in the both the southern and northern part of the Napa Valley are blended into her annual Sauvignon Blanc release.
Anne Vawter was the founding winemaker (although Nils Zacherle was initially involved for a very short while) and made the early vintages (Anne is no longer involved in the winemaking). Anne is a graduate of UC Davis (Viticulture and Enology) and worked with Heidi Barrett at Paradigm Winery for several years and also made wine for Varozza in St. Helena. She has a soft touch when it comes to winemaking preferring to conduct most of the winemaking work in the actual vineyard.
Ziata’s first release, the 2008 Ziata Sauvignon Blanc is from a small 1-acre site east of the town of Napa. This small vineyard sits at the base of volcanic bluffs which over the years have dropped their rocks down to the soils which now make up the vineyard. As a result, this vineyard grows on very a rocky and well drained site. Three Sauvignon Blanc clones are planted, each of which contribute something unique to the wine. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and then saw 4 months aging in neutral French Oak.
This is a sophisticated and delicately styled Sauvignon Blanc that is nicely balanced. The initial bouquet shows pleasant mineralities and notes of crushed rock, almost gravelly in nature. As the bouquet opens hints of honeysuckle are revealed and more fruit, most notably aromas of ripe pineapple. The nose is very aromatic in part from the attributes of the Musque clone. The lively palate also shows some mineralities, green apple and lemon but is certainly not “green” in flavor. The wine is styled in a leaner fashion but with a hint of creaminess which rounds out the mouth feel very well. Lively acidity and bright young fruit make this an excellent wine to pair with food. In fact, some of Karen’s friends have submitted recipes they feel goes well with this wine and these are found on her website. Production is tiny – only 252 cases were made.
The 2016 Ziata Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay was sourced from Cuvaison Vineyard (across from Domain Chandon) and is a blend of Wente, 15 and 548 clones. This wine is the color of dandelion flowers; it offers intense aromatics including initially hints of graphite/mineralities with notes of melon, pineapple, caramelized sugars and citrus blossom. A pretty bouquet. On the palate shows a wonderful richness – both with fruit and influence from its barrel fermentation and 10 months aging in both new and used French oak. Feels supple and creamy and glides softly across the palate. Some dessert nuances show including butterscotch, toffee and honeycomb. A sweetness of fruit and vanilla linger on the finish. 400 cases produced were produced of this inaugural Ziata Chardonnay.
The 2016 Ziata Mia Madre (my mother) Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is dark maroon in color; the bouquet is very elegant with aromas of blueberry complemented with dried herbs, rose petal, tobacco leaf, hints of jalapeno, dust, espresso and hints of old cedar aromas similar to the inside of an ancient Lane Cedar Chest we own. A varied and captivating bouquet. On the palate showcases a density of both fruit and of tannins. Well layered across the palate showing mostly darker fruit (plum and blackberry) with a darker spice component to the finish. This wine also has good acidity. A blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec from three different acclaimed vineyard sites; Farella Vineyard in Coombsville, Beckstoffer’s Georges III in Rutherford and Stagecoach Vineyard on Atlas Peak.
In our humble opinion the top three wine label designers who have worked with a number of premium Napa based wineries and brands are: Susan Roach Pate of Pate International, Michael Vanderbyl of Vanderbyl Design and Chuck House of Icon Design Group. Karen had worked with Michael of Vanderbyl Design prior to Ziata, and when it was time to create a design for her new label, she called Michael. Silver lettering on white, the label is elegant and simultaneously expressive.
In 2016 Karen partnered with the Trinchero Family Estates for additional exposure – the Ziata Wines are now listed in their limited production premium wine portfolio.
Karen has a strong passion for travel and exploring some of the off the beaten paths in various countries. She works with a number of charities including Wine Women and Shoes and was a founding board member of the Elaine Mackie Charitable Trust to raise money and awareness about Breast Cancer. Part of this organization’s fund-raising efforts included trekking around the world and reaching the summits of select mountains including Kilimanjaro. Karen’s work in Napa has not gone unnoticed, she was awarded the Woman of the Year in Napa County in 2017.
One can often find Ziata Wines locally at Backroom Wines in the city of Napa and a number of area restaurants including Press St. Helena and Cole’s Chop House in Napa. For more information or to join their mailing list, visit: www.ziatawines.com