Though they might seem like just another visitor attraction at a winery, wine caves do serve a specific purpose — to store wine at a steady, cool temperature as it ages to perfection. And when summer sets in, these underground caverns also do a great job of keeping wine tasters comfortably chilled. Here are a few favorite carved-out hillsides where you can taste wine and stay cool in the hot days ahead.
Gundlach Bundschu Winery
At California’s oldest family-owned winery, six generations of the Bundschu family have been busy making wine since 1858. The Vineyard & Cave Walking Tour is offered daily at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tour hosts guide guests through the vineyards and caves while teaching them about Gundlach Bundschu’s family history, its winemaking and barrel-aging process and sustainable vineyard practices. Tours last about 90 minutes. Reservations are required. $65 per person. 2000 Denmark St., Sonoma, 707-938-5277.
Buena Vista Winery
Founded in 1857, Buena Vista Winery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. During the Barrel Tasting and Winery Tour, guests learn about the founder of the historic winery, Count Agoston Haraszthy, and try four to five wines, including a barrel tasting in the cave. The tour is offered Monday through Thursday at 1 p.m. $40 per person. 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, 800-926-1266.
Benziger Family Winery
Private wine tastings and dinners in the caves have resumed at Benziger Family Winery. The Tribute Estate Tour & Tasting includes a visit to the caves. Tours run approximately 90 minutes and are offered Thursday through Sunday at 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Tours are by appointment only and are limited to eight people. $75 per person. 883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, 707-935-3000.
Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves
The private Immersive Winery Tour starts next to the winery’s 100-year-old zinfandel vines, but a majority of the time is spent underground in the wine caves. Tours are available by reservation for private groups of four to eight people. The experience ends with a seated private tasting of five wines, including small-lot zinfandels. Allow 90 minutes for the tour. Booking at least 72 hours in advance is required; tours can sell out weeks in advance. $45 per person. 9711 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-473-9171.
Alexander Valley Vineyards
Complimentary cave tours are offered daily at noon and 2:30 p.m. While exploring the 25,000-square-foot wine cave, guests learn about barrel selection and how it can impact a wine’s flavor. Reservations are required for groups of eight or more. Tours last about 30 minutes. The winery also offers a complimentary Estate Tasting. It includes four wines and can be done before or after the cave tour. The Reserve Tasting is $20. 8644 Highway 128, Healdsburg, 707-433-7209.
Thomas George Estates
This wine cave, completed in 2010, measures over 8,000 square feet, with nearly 2,000 square feet dedicated to hosting visitors. Guests can explore the entire cave, from production spaces with barrels and concrete vessels to the Wine Cave Library. The Single Vineyard Tasting includes a seated tasting in the wine cave or the picnic area, tasting of six wines and a pizza for two. $60 per person. Reservations are recommended. 8075 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-431-1036.
Deerfield Ranch Winery
Guests can tour this 23,000-square-foot wine cave, shaped like a wine glass, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (by reservation only). The tour lasts about an hour and includes tasting of five wines. Guests learn about the advantages the subterranean space provides for aging wine and how extended barrel aging impacts the wine. $65 per person. 10200 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707-833-5215.
Schug Carneros Estate Winery
After a walking tour of the vineyards, guests explore the winery cellar and enjoy a seated tasting in the cave’s Library Room. Tours are available by reservation for private groups of up to eight people and take place at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The Estate Tour & Tasting includes both current vintages and older hard-to-get bottles, paired with small bites prepared by winery chef Kristine Schug. Plan on two hours for the experience. $75 per person. 602 Bonneau Road, Sonoma, 707-939-9363.
By: Dana Rebmann