In many parts of the country, caves are reserved for bats. In Sonoma County, you’re much more likely to find wine barrels in caves. Winemakers have long known that the pristine, protected conditions of these underground caverns make ideal chilly-humid climates for aging wines. Wine tasters, meanwhile, have discovered the other cool factor of caves – touring, and sipping. Many local wineries open their caves to visitors, offering sit-down tastings or guided walk-arounds, and some invite you to taste straight from the wine barrels. Bats, however, aren’t invited to the party.
Here is a quick guide to help you select wineries with wine caves for your next visit. For information on all Sonoma County wineries, go to the Sonoma wineries listings. Get a free wineries map and Visitors Guide to help you plan your trip around Sonoma Wine Country.
Established more than 25 years ago, Gloria Ferrer winery was the first sparkling wine house built in the Carneros region. But actually, the Ferrer family has been making sparkling wines for more than 150 years in Spain.
A variety of tours delve into the important role that caves play in the winemaking process, from a basic educational tasting that includes the main cave overlook, to a private look at how crafting sparkling wine can take three to 10 years.
Our favorite exploration is the lavish food and wine pairing tour, in-depth 1-1/2 hour experience that leads throughout the different areas of the winery and cave overlooks, followed by appetizers, bubblies and wines.
When Kunde claims to have caves, it truly does. More than 32,000 square feet of wine caves tunnel through ancient volcanic lava flows, tucked into a steep hillside just behind the winery. They burrow 175 feet below the earth, welcoming with a deep perfume of aging wine and oak barrels.
And they encourage all kinds of special celebrations, such as private meals in the dining room that sits encased in five million year old volcanic rock, complete with a volcanic rock stage and elegant redwood tables. Guided tours of the aging caves are available daily at no charge and without appointment for groups of ten or less.
9825 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707-833-5501
As the oldest commercial winery in California, this gracious property has seen some changes since being built in 1857. Yet the caves speak of ancient history, being labeled actual historical landmarks.
They’ve recently been renovated for modern safety measures, but remain elegantly dark and mysterious, and it’s a must to enjoy a tasting straight from the barrels.
Paired tastings are the best way to explore, where a host will first offer the barrel wine, then the finished wine, and explain the evolution. The Barrel Tour and Tasting is available daily at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and lasts about 1 hour. Reservations are required 48 hours in advance.
18000 Old Winery Road, 800.926.1266
Located in the heart of Dry Creek Valley, Bella is a small, family owned winery with nearly 7,000 square feet of caves tucked into a steep hillside beneath the estate’s prized Lily Hill vineyard.
Tastings are held within view of the winemaking and barrel area, and owners Scott and Lynn Adams are often on-hand to explain the benefits of subterranean storage: a constant year-round average temperature of 61°F and a natural humidity of 55 percent.
For a larger event (bring all your batty friends), the space also includes a dining room, private tasting bar featuring barrel samples, and a music room for everything from live performances to cooking classes hosted by area chefs. Mark your calendar for extras like the annual candlelit, aphrodisiac dinner on Valentine’s Day.
9711 W. Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-473-9171
The 8,000 square-foot space was excavated in 2010 for an elaborate, entirely lavish treatment of rough rock hung with glamorous chandeliers.
Stretching like a labyrinth from the spacious foyer set with antique wood tasting bars, the snaking hallways start with a private tasting lounge and wine library, leading to a long communal table for sit down dinners of up to 70 people. It’s worth a visit just for a sip of the elegant, silky Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, though white wine lovers swear by the sumptuous Chardonnay, too.
8075 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-431-8031.
You pop in one side of the cave, through the heavy wood doors tucked in a tunnel off the courtyard from the tasting room, and when you’re done, you pop out the other, to find yourself overlooking the vineyards and an enormous lake.
That’s just one of the unique aspects of this historic site, carved into a gentle hillside. Throughout the year, “GunBun” hosts a variety of activities relative to the winemaking season, including a guided Farming Tour & Cave Tasting, a Harvest Tour & Cave Tasting, and a Barrel Cave Tour & Tasting. Each adventure ends with a seated wine tasting in the Barrel Cave Dining Room.
Gundlach Bundschu Winery, 2000 Denmark St., Sonoma, 707-938-5277
Coming up the winding drive, through the vineyards bordered by rose bushes towards the German chalet-style winery, it’s hard to imagine that there are also caves tucked into the bucolic hillside.
Yet the stone structures are polished and glossy and lined with gorgeous barrels. Knowledgeable guides on the private tours offer a blend of the winery’s history, insight into the Carneros region, and an overview of Schug’s “secret” winemaking techniques.
Start with a walk through the vineyard, cross over the crush pad, then continue into the winery and the wine caves where, what else, a glass of wine awaits.
602 Bonneau Road, Sonoma, 707-939-9363
The grapes are biodynamic and organic, and the wines are world-class, but it’s just as exciting to tour as it to taste. The property is huge but so well managed and secluded next to Jack London Park that it feels like an oasis.
One of the best ways to take it all in is the Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour, where you board a lovely trolley for 45 minute adventure amid the vines, peeking in at the fermentation facility and crush pad, and exploring the expansive, romantic barrel caves, followed by a premium tasting. Walk-ups are welcome 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily, but for large groups or on weekends, 24-advance reservations are recommended.
1883 London Ranch Rd., Glen Ellen, 888-490-2739
If you walk outside the tasting room at Alexander Valley Vineyards, you’ll see a set of huge double doors that lead into the wine cave, a 25,000-square-foot cavern where the winery ages and ferments its wine.
Completed in 2008, it stretches deep into the hillside to hold 10,000 barrels. Acclaimed for crisp Chardonnays and luscious Cabernet Sauvignons, the Wetzel family of Alexander Valley Vineyards was one of the first in the area to plant grapes and start a winery. They helped bring recognition to the Alexander Valley American Viticulture Area and became a leading winery in Sonoma County. Complimentary cave tours are scheduled at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily.
8644 Highway 128, Healdsburg, (800) 888-7209
The expanse is impressive – more than 23,000 square feet of wine caves spanning the heart of winery, and cut in the shape of a wine glass. Tucked behind beautiful redwood portal doors sit hundreds of barrels, leading to the grand room furnished in overstuffed couches and chairs.
Such comfortable seating is a good idea, considering tasting flights can include up to 20 wines (try the standouts of super Tuscan-style “Super T Rex” red and the Old Vine Zinfandel).
For quieter escapes, more intimate seating areas are scattered about, too, and your host will find you, bringing your glasses right to your table.
10200 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707-833-5215, 707-833-5215
Rich, dark Cabernet Sauvignon and deep, dark caves, what a lovely combination. This 100-acre estate has been in the Fahden family since 1912, hidden away in the Mayacamas mountain range and producing less than 2,000 cases per year.
The volcanic cave is the centerpiece, though the Monet garden beckons, too, featuring a teahouse overlooking water lily-laced ponds. This is also one of the best-kept secrets for intimate dinners, as sit-down three-course candlelit meals prepared by local top chefs and featuring fresh, local, and organic ingredients.
4855 Petrified Forest Road, Calistoga, 707-942-6760