Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ten U.S. Wine Caves Worth the Visit

Ancient Orvieto - Umbria Wine Cave
Wine Cave in Barcelona
Caves have been used to store and age wine for over 6,000 years. The underground caverns were found to offer the best environment for wine aging, and that is still true today. Wine caves offer the perfect conditions: high humidity from 70 – 90%, optimal temperatures between 55 °F and 60 °F, and as an added bonus, a wine cave makes maximum use of the land, allowing for a vineyard on top of the ground and a cellar below.

Napa Region
Wine caves can be found around the world. In the U.S., wine caves are located in California, mainly in the Napa Valley region. In fact, there are over 200 known wine caves in Northern California. 

Here are ten caves not to be missed!

Buena Vista Wine Cave
Buena Vista Winery was probably the first winery that had a wine cave constructed. The cave for Buena Vista was dug in 1861 with the aid of Chinese laborers. Things were progressing quite nicely until founder Agoston Haraszhy died in an accident in 1869. Buena Vista then began to experience financial problems and was sold off in 1878. It was not until the 1940s that the winery began to rebound, but the caves were left dormant. Then, in 2012, the wine caves were restored and are now, once again being used for aging wine.

Jacob Schram
Wine caves became popular in Napa Valley in the 1870s, thanks to Jacob Schram, a German immigrant who hired Chinese laborers to build a network of caves under his vineyard. 

Shramsberg Wine Cave
Schramsberg Vineyard produces sparkling wines using the Champagne method. The caves present the perfect conditions in which to age the sparkles in order to "match the style and quality of the best French Champagnes". At any time, there can be over 2.7 million bottles aging in these caverns. Public tours are available.

Beringer Wine Cave
Beringer Vineyards, the oldest commercial winery in California, also put Chinese labor forces to work constructing a labyrinth of caves during the late 1870s and early 1880s. Over 12 caves were created by hand, measuring 1,200 feet long, 17 feet wide and 7 feet high. Today, the wine caves are again in use and public tours and tastings are held there.

Inglenook Wine Cave
It was 1883 when Inglenook Winery began construction on a wine cave to test their theory of cellar temperatures. Founder Gustave Niebaum worked to advance wine procedures; one way was by setting up one of the first bottling lines in the state in his wine cellar. But the winery fell on hard times after Niebaum died, and his vision was lost. The building and grounds were sold and resold several times. It wasn’t until film director Francis Ford Coppola purchased part of the estate in 1975 that the winery began to rebound, and eventually flourish. It would be 120 years after the first wine caves were completed that the Infinity Caves were built - specifically to store the Niebaum-Coppola Estate wines.

Del Dotto Wine Cave
In 1885, Chinese workers dug another wine cave, this one measuring 350 feet, for another of the first wineries in Napa. This is one of only six wine caves still in existence from that time. Now owned by Del Dotto Vineyards, the Napa Valley caves were restored in 1997 and are now used for the aging of the red wines, along with public tours.

Abandoned Winery
By the close of the 19th century, interest in wine caves had dropped and none were built for almost 90 years. Because of Prohibition, many wineries and vineyard were sold or simply abandoned, and left to fall into disrepair. Wine caves and tunnels slowly eroded and become impassable. Interest didn’t renew until 1972 when the old Beringer caves were restored.

Far Niente Wine Cave
The first modern wine cave was constructed for Far Niente Winery in 1982. What began as a 60-foot wine cave led to the first cave to be built in the 20th century. The Far Niente caves now encompass over 40,000 square-feet of underground terrain and are open for public tours.

Rutherford Hill Wine Cave
Rutherford Hill Winery was also a proponent of modern caves. Excavations began in 1984 and by 1986 the first wine cave was completed. Work on the second cave began immediately and was finished in 1989. It included a series of connecting tunnels, a rear cave and a grotto, which is used for events. Rutherford Hill has the largest wine cave in Napa Valley; it can store over 8,000 barrels of wine.

Jarvis Wine Cave
Jarvis Estate was the first winery to tunnel a cave large enough to move their complete winemaking operation into. Started in 1991, the project was completed in three phases, the final one being finished in 2001. There are now over 45,000 square feet of parabolic shaped tunneled cellars which include a stream and waterfall.

Stag's Leap Wine Cave
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars was founded in 1970 during Napa Valley’s renaissance, but it wasn’t until 1996 that excavation began for the wine caves. Completed in 2000, the caves make up over 34,000 square feet of tunnels that can house up to 6,000 barrels of red wine. Designed by Barcelona-based architect Javier Barba, the caves meet at a center room, known as the Round Room. It is one of only 50 such rooms in the world. The Round Room houses a Foucault pendulum suspended from the ceiling, which marks the aging of the wines, and the passage of time.

Hall/Rutherford Wine Cave
Hall/Rutherford Wines produces small lots of red wines that are stored in the 14,000 square feet wine caves. The caves were designed and built by hand by the Austrian company Friedrich Gruber Winecellar using historical materials between 100 and 300 years old. A reception area is also located in the wine caves, which boasts a chandelier dripping with hundreds of Swarovski crystals. Completed in 2005, these modern caves are available for events.

Digging a Wine Cave
Although wine caves are far from new, the methods used to build them, and the enhancements included are quite different from those of 140 years ago. The current cost of constructing a wine cave is over $100 per square foot, but the savings from energy costs, along with event rentals, assist in recouping the initial expenditure.

Rudd Oakville Estates
Hall Rutherford
And modern wine caves are no longer used just for storing wine. Today they are the marketing backbone for many wineries. Wine caves are constructed not only for housing aging bottles, but for accommodating special events, libraries, exhibits and artwork. Instead of the dark, dank caves of the 1800's, today there's something for everyone to enjoy -  underground.

~ Joy