Taste the terroir in these top wine caves around the world
Descending deep into the earth, wine caves provide ideal conditions for aging wine, where the earthly entombment maintains a consistently cold and humid temperature, and all that above-ground activity that might disturb the aging process is very far away.
From a winery in Napa Valley that has become a pioneer in gravity-flow winemaking to one in Mexico that integrates sustainable materials throughout its design, the options to explore these caves run the gamut. Perfect for the oenotourist, this is a truly unique way to experience the influence of the terroir – the special characteristic a region’s environment imparts on the flavor of a wine – deep underground.
Vena Cava Winery – Mexico
Driving up the dusty dirt road to this winery in the heart of Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe, you might at first think that you’ve ventured onto the Playa at Burning Man. But rest assured, you’ve arrived at Vena Cava Winery. The owners showcase their passion for sustainability with a cave that is built from reclaimed fishing boats and other recycling materials.
After you’ve tasted from their menu that includes natural wines, take a stroll outside and enjoy a taco or tostada from Troika, the resident food truck. Then take a seat at a table and sip a glass of wine while you watch ducks frolic in the pond nearby.
SpéléOenologie – France
Aptly described as a "hands-on" wine tasting experience, SpéléOenologie is a spelunking activity that takes place in France’s Rhone Valley. Taking advantage of the dark and humid conditions of the cave, the winemakers leave each bottle underground for two years.
Don a jumpsuit, secure your harness and ropes, and descend over 300ft into the Saint-Marcel d'Ardèche cave along with a winemaker who explains his process with pride while you taste his wine in complete darkness. Depending on how adventurous you are feeling you can opt to hike or zipline as part of your tour.
Palmaz Vineyards – California
With a history of over 140 years of winemaking, Palmaz Vineyards in Napa Valley’s Coombsville area combines the most innovative winemaking techniques to create stellar wines. Upon arrival at this winery that sprawls over 600 acres you’ll meet your own “ambassador,” who will lead you on a tour that explains the evolution of the grape from vineyard to bottle. The tour showcases their emphasis on gravity-flow winemaking – a maze of domes and tunnels have been carved into the rock that extend over nearly 100,000 sq ft. Palmaz was designed with three basic principles in mind: terroir isolation, gravity-flow and net-zero water consumption, earning it the designation of one of the most technologically advanced wineries in the world.
Mileștii Mici – Moldova
Wedged between Ukraine and Romania, the country of Moldova houses an unexpected wine wonderland called Mileștii Mici. This winery was originally a limestone mine, and it was converted to its current incarnation in 1969.
This is not your usual wine tour – hop in your car and follow your guide through the more than 200ft of underground cellar tunnels that have been turned into makeshift streets. Each of the tunnels have been given wine-related street names in order to make it easier to navigate. This winery is also home to the world's largest verified wine collection, with more than two million bottles according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Pine Ridge Vineyards – California
Among the rolling hills and rocky slopes of Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District lies Pine Ridge Vineyards, a winery that was established in 1978. Because of the winery’s location on a knoll it was possible to excavate caves, which are among the largest in Napa Valley. Most of their tasting experiences occur in the Cellar 47 lounge, a VIP tasting venue which is housed within an almost 38,000 sq ft cave.
Depending on your stamina, you can take either an abbreviated or more extensive tour of the caves, which is accompanied by a tasting of the estate wines. Be sure to try FORTIS, their flagship wine.
Champagne Taittinger – France
Champagne Taittinger's 4th century Gallo-Roman chalk mines and 13th century Saint-Nicaise Abbey are Unesco World Heritage sites, and for good reason. Not only does Saint-Nicaise represent the patron saint of wine, Benedictine monks from this Abbey in Reims, France, used to store their bottles underground.
Descend a spiral staircase and venture through the cave, discovering crypts and vaults that are still well-preserved. Remains of the Abbey, which was destroyed during the French Revolution, can be seen throughout the tunnels. The caves were also used as bomb shelters during World War I.
Archery Summit Winery – Oregon
Located in the Dundee Hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Archery Summit Winery was founded by Gary Andrus in the 1990s. He had a vision of creating a Burgundian-style winery, so the caves fit perfectly into his plan. The winery features Oregon's only cave system that is built directly into the bedrock and a state-of-the-art 100% gravity-flow winery.
Bring a group and experience a wine tasting in one of the caves, where you’ll be invited to taste library wines along with current vintages. If you’re looking to impress someone special, check out the Estate Tasting, which includes a private tasting inside the cave.
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