Something about the summer makes us want to take a trip underground, into the cool, calm dark of a wine cave. Fortunately, Sonoma County has plenty of subterranean tasting opportunities, where we can tour, sip, and explore amazing wineries.
We listed some of our favorites here a few years ago, and now we’ve dug up some more. Come along, and discover!
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, Sonoma
This is the grand dame of fanciful caves, made all the more special with some of America’s finest sparkling wines. Established more than 25 years ago, Gloria Ferrer winery was the first sparkling wine house built in the Carneros region, in fact. But the story goes deeper, actually, since the Ferrer family has been making sparkling wines for more than 150 years.
A variety of tours delve into the important role that caves play in the winemaking process, from a basic educational tasting that includes the main cave overlook, to a private look at how crafting sparkling wine can take 3 to 10 years.
Our favorite exploration is the lavish food and wine pairing tour, an-depth 1-1/2 hour experience that leads throughout the different areas of the winery and cave overlooks, followed by appetizers, bubblies and wines.
The tasting is a full one, including the premium portfolio of sparkling wines plus a specially crafted estate varietal wine. The bites are seasonal delicacies, with different tastes and textures, and your guide will explain the basics of wine and food pairing and why each of the pairings work so well together.
23555 Hwy. 121, Sonoma, 707-933-1931, gloriaferrer.com.
Kunde Family Estate, Kenwood
You can’t miss this 1,850 contiguous acre ranch that stretches for 2½ miles along the Sonoma Highway. First planted in 1879, it now boasts some of the region’s richest premium quality grapes, sustainably grown, then processed in a 17,000 square foot, state-of-the-art winery. And when Kunde claims to have caves, it truly does. More than 32,000 square feet of wine caves tunnel through ancient volcanic lava flows, tucked into a steep hillside just behind the winery. They burrow 175 feet below the earth, welcoming with a deep perfume of aging wine and oak barrels. And they encourage all kinds of special celebrations, such as private meals in the dining room that sits encased in five million year old volcanic rock, complete with a volcanic rock stage and elegant redwood tables. Comfort is guaranteed, too - the caves are ideal for aging premium wines, with year-round temperatures of 58°F and a natural humidity of 78 percent, which decreases evaporation of wine from the barrels. Guided tours of the aging caves are available daily at no charge and without appointment for groups of ten or less.
9825 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood, 707-833-5501, kunde.com.
Buena Vista, Sonoma
As the oldest commercial winery in California, this gracious property has seen some changes since being built in 1857. Yet the caves speak of ancient history, being labeled actual historical landmarks. They’ve recently been renovated for modern safety measures, but remain elegantly dark and mysterious, and it’s a must to enjoy a tasting straight from the barrels. Paired tastings are the best way to explore, where a host will first offer the barrel wine, then the finished wine, and explain the evolution. The Barrel Tour and Tasting is available daily at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and lasts about 1 hour. Reservations are required 48 hours in advance, and while you’re making plans, be sure to ask about seeing “The Count.” This is where a costumed gentleman complete with stovepipe hat, brocade vest and lavish gray beard with sideburns will lead you on a 45-minute tour into the cellars, followed by a tasting – he plays Agoston Haraszthy, who first founded the winery centuries ago.
18000 Old Winery Rd., 800.926.1266, buenavistawinery.com.
Alexander Valley Vineyards
If you walk outside the tasting room at Alexander Valley Vineyards, you’ll see a set of huge double doors that lead into the wine cave, a 25,000-square-foot cavern where the winery ages and ferments its wine. Completed in 2008, it stretches deep into the hillside to hold 10,000 barrels. Acclaimed for crisp Chardonnays and luscious Cabernet Sauvignons, the Wetzel family of Alexander Valley Vineyards were one of the first in the area to plant grapes and start a winery. They helped bring recognition to the Alexander Valley American Viticulture Area and became a leading winery in Sonoma County. Complimentary cave tours are scheduled at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily.
8644 Highway 128, Healdsburg, (800) 888-7209, avvwine.com.
Benziger Family Winery, Glen Ellen
The grapes are biodynamic and organic, and the wines are world-class, but it’s just as exciting to tour as it to taste. The property is huge but so well managed and secluded next to Jack London Park that it feels like an oasis. One of the best ways to take it all in is the Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour, where you board a lovely trolley for 45 minute adventure amid the vines, peeking in at the fermentation facility and crush pad, and exploring the expansive, romantic barrel caves, followed by a premium tasting. Walk-ups are welcome 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily, but for large groups or on weekends, 24-advance reservations are recommended.
1883 London Ranch Rd., Glen Ellen, 888-490-2739, benziger.com.
Tip: The best way to enjoy wine tasting is to not worry about driving. Pure Luxury Transportation can take the wheel, with your private limo or Town Car.