Guide to Visiting Wine Caves in Sonoma Wine Country
Sonoma County winemakers have long known that caves provide the ideal chilly-humid climate for the wine-aging process. Wine tasters, meanwhile, have discovered the other cool factor of caves: touring and sipping.
Many local wineries have caves, and open them to visitors. Some offer sit-down tastings or guided walks, and many invite you to taste straight from their wine barrels.
Alexander Valley Vineyards, Healdsburg
Just outside the tasting room at Alexander Valley Vineyards, a set of huge double doors lead into the wine cave, a 25,000-square-foot cavern where the winery ages and ferments its wine. The temperature inside the cave varies only 5 degrees Fahrenheit from winter to summer, between 58 degrees and 63 degrees. Completed in 2008, the massive tunnel stretches deep into the hillside to hold 10,000 barrels for the process of fermentation and aging.
Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves, Healdsburg
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 the steep hillside beneath the estate's prized Lily Hill vineyard. Completed in December 2003, the caves provide 5,200 square feet of barrel storage and working space, plus 1,500 square feet of entertainment space. The tasting room is in the cavern, nestled at the back of the entertainment side of the cave, which allows guests to view some of the inner workings of the winery. Owners Scott and Lynn Adams are often on hand to explain the benefits of subterranean storage: a constant year-round average temperature of 61 degrees Fahrenheit and a natural humidity of 55 percent.
Benziger Family Winery, Glen Ellen
Saving energy and money were the impetus for excavating the 30,000-square-foot underground wines caves at Benziger Family Winery, and the plan worked: Without need for additional cooling, the year-round temperature in these caves remains a balmy, barrel-friendly 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
On the Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour of the winery's sprawling, secluded, and sustainably-farmed property near Jack London State Historic Park, guests board a tractor-pulled tram for a 45-minute adventure amid the vines, crush pad, cellar, and barrel caves, followed by a premium tasting of Benziger's red and white wines.
Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma
As the oldest commercial winery in California, this gracious property has seen many changes since it opened its doors in 1857. The caves are still elegantly dim, mysterious, and officially considered historical landmarks, but have been updated with modern safety features, creating a comfortable space to enjoy a wine tasting straight from the barrels.
Paired tastings here are a delicious way to learn about wine fermentation, as a host will offer tastes of the barrel wine and finished wine, followed by an explanation of the evolution.
Deerfield Ranch Winery, Kenwood
Spanning the heart of the winery, these 23,000-square-foot wine caves are carved in the shape of a wine glass. Impressive redwood portal doors open to a path lined with hundreds of barrels, leading to a grand tasting room with overstuffed couches and chairs.
Such comfortable seating is a good idea, considering tasting flights here can include up to 20 wines (try the standouts of super Tuscan-style "Super T Rex" red and the Old Vine Zinfandel). If privacy is desired, request an intimate seating area and your host will find you, bringing your glasses right to your table.
Fritz Underground Winery, Cloverdale
Winery proprietor Arthur Fritz was focused on sustainability decades before the concept became a hallmark of Sonoma County winemaking. In the late 1970s, concerned about America's then-growing energy crisis, he designed his Dry Creek Valley winery to be as energy-efficient as possible.
Fritz enlisted engineers to bore a massive hole in his hillside estate, then build a semi-submerged tasting room and a subterranean winemaking facility. Built in a three-tier "gravity flow" design, this underground cave enables grapes and juice to be efficiently moved between winemaking stages, all while being naturally cooled to the temperatures premium wines require.
Now run by Arthur's son Clay, the winery still utilizes this ultra-efficient cave to produce their Zinfandels, Cabernet Sauvignons, Chardonnays, and sparkling wines. Tours of the fascinating Fritz underground cave are given each day at 11am and 2pm, by advance appointment.
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, Sonoma
When Gloria Ferrer established her winery in the 1980s, her family had already been making sparkling wines in Spain since the 1870s - but hers was the first sparkling wine house in the Carneros region of Sonoma.
A variety of tours delve into the important role that Ferrer's winery caves play in their winemaking process, from a basic educational tasting to a private look at why it can take up to 10 years to craft a premium sparkling wine. A favorite option is Bubble and Bites, an in-depth, 90-minute tour throughout the winery and cave overlooks, followed by appetizers, still wines, and bubbles.
Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma
Entering through heavy wood doors tucked into a tunnel off the tasting room courtyard, guests at Gundlach Bundschu pop in one side of its wine cave and, when they're done, emerge on the other side, with a view overlooking the vineyards and an enormous lake.
Throughout the year, "GunBun" hosts a variety of activities relative to the winemaking season, but one of the most popular is their Dirt to Bottle Production Tour & Tasting, which ends with a tasting in the winery's cool, 430-foot-long, 10,000-square-foot cave, which is carved into a gentle hillside and holds 1,800 barrels of wine.
Hans Fahden Winery, Santa Rosa/Calistoga
Rich, dark Cabernet Sauvignon and deep, dark caves—what a lovely combination! Hidden away in the Mayacamas Mountains, this 100-acre estate has been in the Fahden family since 1912 and produces less than 2,000 cases per year. The volcanic cave is the winery's centerpiece, though the Monet-style garden beckons, too, featuring a teahouse overlooking water lily-laced ponds.
Kunde Family Winery, Kenwood
Tucked into a steep hillside just behind the Kunde Family Estate winery, more than 32,000 square feet of wine caves tunnel through ancient volcanic lava flows. They burrow 175 feet below the earth, welcoming visitors with a deep perfume of aging wine and oak barrels.
These caves encourage ideas for all kinds of special celebrations, such as private meals in the dining room that sits encased in 5-million-year-old volcanic rock, complete with a volcanic rock stage and elegant redwood tables.
Schug Carneros Estate Winery, Sonoma
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 caves tucked into the bucolic hillside.
Yet the underground stone structures are polished and glossy and lined with gorgeous barrels. On the winery's comprehensive private tours, knowledgeable guides provide a blend of Schug's history and an overview of their "secret" winemaking techniques, then lead guests to the wine caves where tastings of wine await.
Thomas George Estates, Healdsburg
Looking for more fun things to do during your trip to Sonoma County? Take a look at the many outdoor activities to enjoy in the valleys, vineyards, coastline and Russian River areas of Sonoma County.
Already thinking about how to get here? Consider flying into STS - Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, where you can fly direct from Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, Santa Ana, San Diego, and more.