12 Wine Caves You Can Visit in Sonoma County
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 Sonoma County 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. Here are 12 wineries with caves to visit on your next trip to Sonoma County.
Just outside the tasting room at Alexander Valley Vineyards, a set of huge double doors leads into the wine cave, a 25,000-square-foot tunnel that stretches deep into the hillside to hold 10,000 barrels for the process of fermentation and aging. The temperature inside the cave varies only 5 degrees Fahrenheit from winter to summer, between 58 degrees and 63 degrees.
Complimentary daily cave tours invite visitors into the barrel aging process and explain how barrels are the "winemaker's spice cabinet," which all but guarantees you'll gain a deeper appreciation for the Healdsburg winery's much-lauded estate wines and blends.
2. 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 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.
Seated wine tastings in the cave are offered daily, but the Bella Tour is a more immersive experience that takes visitors to the vineyard, the crush pad, and into the magical depths of the wine cave to taste small-lot Zinfandels amid the barrels (call ahead to book).
Several Sonoma County wineries have become industry leaders in sustainability, and Benziger Family Winery is a standout among them. Saving energy and money were the impetus for excavating the 30,000-square-foot underground wines caves at this Glen Ellen winery, and the plan worked: Without need for additional cooling, the year-round temperature in the caves remains a balmy, barrel-friendly 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
On the Biodynamic Tractor 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 75-minute adventure amid the vines, crush pad, cellar, and barrel caves, along with a premium tasting of four limited-production wines.
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 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.
Tufted couches and chandeliers dripping with crystals adorn the plush Bubble Lounge, where you can enjoy a tasting of the Sonoma winery's sparkling wines and Champagne. Or, the Grand Reserve Tasting takes you into a secluded corner of the wine cave for a sampling of exclusive Buena Vista library and ultra-premium imported wines.
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.
Winery proprietor Arthur Fritz was focused on sustainability decades before the concept became a hallmark of Sonoma County wineries. 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. Tastings that include a tour of the fascinating Fritz underground cave are offered several days a week, by advance appointment.
7. 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 the Vineyard Excursion, an in-depth, 90-minute tour throughout the vineyards, followed by a five-course food and wine pairing on the Vista Terrace.
8. 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, the Sonoma winery hosts a variety of activities relative to the winemaking season, but one of the most popular is their Vineyard and Cave Experience, which explores every crevice of the wine cave and ends with a tasting of GunBun's Vintage Reserve Cabernet in the majestic cave dining room.
9. 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.
10. 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. If you're traveling with a group, Kunde offers several private tours that include an in-depth visit to the wine caves.
11. Schug Carneros Estate Winery, Sonoma
Coming up the winding drive, through the vineyards bordered by rose bushes toward 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. During 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.