Sup a Cup of Cupcake; Leave the Lemon Chiffon for Grandma

In my best Seinfeld voice:  What’s the deal with all these cupcakes, anyway?

Fake Jerry is right.  Prior to the last few months, the only space cupcakes ever occupied in my brain was when I woke up in a panic one morning remembering  that I was supposed to have fifty of the high-fat, sugar-jammed little buggers frosted and ready to rock for an 8 AM elementary school bake sale. (And don’t preach ‘low-fat and heart-smart cupcakes’, Ellie Krieger—they make about as much sense as low-alcohol, heart-smart scotch).

Now, all the sudden, cupcakes are everywhere.  Cupcake Wars on Food Network featuring an A-list of celebrity cupcake makers;  Madonna passing out free cupcakes to launch her Material Girl line of ugly clothes;  Magnolia Bakery opening in LA with more press and fanfare than the opening of Eclipse;  Katie Holmes making news by having grasshopper flavored Isabelle’s Curly Cakes delivered to the set of her latest thespian debacle—that’s ‘news’ she’s making, folks—the same institution that hardly mentions four thousand dead American soldiers in the Middle East any more.

And Now, There’s Cupcake Vineyards…

There’s a stylized cupcake on the logo, a sinfully scrumptious-looking chocolate cupcake on the beauty shot, and a tagline to their latest varietal, sauvignon blanc, claiming that it’s ‘almost as good as Grandma’s lemon chiffon cupcakes…’   We guess by these endless cupcake references that there must be caché in linking yourself to a silly trend like gourmet cupcakes, even if there is no discernable reason for a vintner to do so.  Still, it could have been worse.  We could be drinking Venetian Blinds Style White Glasses viognier.  Or Crocs cabernet.

Winemaker Adam Richardson (not to be confused with that cute little cupcake Adam Rich from Eight is Enough who turned into a juvenile delinquent and by now is probably a senile delinquent) hails from Australia, where they undoubtedly have some precious slang word for ‘cupcake’ like ‘cuppies’.   Before becoming a winemaker, Richardson was an aviator with the Royal Navy, which is a little like being a sailor for the Royal Air force.  No wonder he changed professions, launching  the Cupcake brand in 2008, intending to produce rich, hand crafted wines saturated in flavor and complexity—wines that the ‘more is more’ consumer just can’t consume enough of.

So Far So Good:

According to Marketing Director Nicolas Tucker , “With the gourmet cupcake trend accelerating and cupcake boutiques opening up across the country, there is an opportunity for a wine that is crafted to invoke the feeling that you get when reward yourself.”

Nice words, interesting concept.  Problem is, Nicolas and Adam, isn’t that a lot to hang your Mad Men-era fedora on?—trends accelerate for only so long, then decelerate even quicker, which is, in fact, why Pet Rock Winery and Rubik’s Cube Vineyard went belly-up.  The product you guys are pumping out is, dollar for dollar, very good, too—much better than Grandma’s lemon chiffon cupcakes, which always had too much baking soda and tasted like sugared hummus.

The slew of awards won by the winery is proof that the opinion of Cupcake’s overall quality and value is not mine alone.  In ’09, they took gold in seven prestigious competitions (including Sommelier Challenge International, Critic’s Challenge International and both the LA and San Francisco International).  In ’10, they loaded down the mantle with 22 more gold and silver medals.  So far in 2011 the trend continues, and awards already snagged could fill a fifty gallon limousin barrel.  (Though Richardson claims to use only American oak).

Adam Richardson, winemaker

Part of the charm of the Cupcake portfolio is that, though the winery is based in Petaluma and known for boldly expressed  Central Coast varietals like chardonnay, cabernet and merlot, Richardson’s a Down Underer and well understands the sublimity of sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand.  Without batting an eye, he’s slapped a Cupcake label up on a classic lime-zest and grapefruit version.  Likewise, a Mendoza malbec, a  Mosel riesling (in a pretty blue bottle, the same color as Grandma’s three week old lemon chiffon cupcakes), a Yakima dry riesling, a Barossa shiraz and a Trentino pinot grigio.  I doubt that Richardson himself made any of these foreign-born wines, but on the other hand, I don’t know that for a fact; his press doesn’t say.  What I do know is that at this price point—all the wines are around $12, with a pair of bubblies coming in at $15—they’re sweeter than the molar crumblers I skated in under the wire at my kid’s bake sale.

With such trend-bucking innovation, it would be a shame if, when the cupcake craze fades—and fade it will—the winery  ends up aligned with a ‘that’s so ten minutes ago’ moniker.

On the other hand, fear not, Adam and Nicolas—you have at least one sad sack wine writer working overtime for you, predicting where you should go from here.

Just maybe I have a handle on the next big wine trend.  

In my squirreliest Seinfeld impression:  Cupcake tops.


Cupcake Vineyards is part of the Underdog Wine Merchants portfolio of wines, a champion of interesting, sometimes misunderstood or under-appreciated wines and wine styles. In a word, they consider themselves the ‘underdogs’ of the wine world. Underdog works with both domestic and international winemakers to craft unique, esoteric wines and bring those gems to wine lovers. Underdog’s current portfolio of wines includes A●Mano, Angel Juice, Big House, Boho Vineyards, Cardinal Zin, Chateau Laroque, Helfrich, Herding Cats, Killer Juice, Montecillo, Now & Zen, Osborne, Pinot Evil and many others. For more information on brands and availability visit

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