The use of subterranean structures to store wine dates to ancient Rome. The Romans used their extensive catacomb system for wine storage. Wine storage in the United States dates to the 1870s when Jacob Schram enlisted Chinese laborers, who had finished working on the transcontinental railroad, to dig a wine cave for his Schramsberg Vineyards, near Calistoga. Soon, wine caves were excavated beneath Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena. During Prohibition years, no new caves were dug. It wasn’t until 1982, when Far Niente Winery in Napa Valley, that wine caves saw a renaissance.
Today, the wine industry is embracing the eco-friendly benefits of wine caves. Winemakers consider a 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit to be the best temperature for storing and aging wine. Humidity should be between 70-90%. Wine caves naturally create such a prime environment without the need for complex electrical humidity and temperature control systems. The ability to attract wine enthusiasts to cave-aged wines and to tour wine cellars is a bonus to marketing the modern wine industry.
VinRoc, in Napa, has taken advantage of Napa Valley’s microclimate and carved a wine cave into the volcanic rock of the area. Benziger Family Winery sees its decision to construct a wine cave as an innovative green decision and offers guests a glimpse into its subterranean barrel storage. Stuart Cellars of Temecula has over 10,000 square feet of underground storage space. Jarvis of Napa offers tours and special events in its underground winery. Other wineries such as Wiens Family Cellars and Oak Mountain Winery offer exclusive members-only tastings. Rutherford Hill, of Napa Valley, boasts one of the most extensive cave structures in North America. The winery maintains approximately 8,000 barrels.