Caves are great for storing wine
One of the great pleasures of exploring the wine culture of Napa Valley is the cave tour. Caves, with their even year-round low but not freezing temperatures, have been recognized for centuries as excellent places in which to store and age wine in the barrel. Humidity, which would normally be the last thing you’d want in any kind of long-term storage environment, is ideal for the storing of wine. Because the barrel is not perfectly airtight (if it were, you’d have to fight a vacuum every time you opened the tap) a little wine is always being lost to evaporation. Cool, humid air minimizes this loss. The humidity in a wine cave should be at least 75 percent, and more than that if white wines are being stored.
The first wine caves were ordinary caves and former limestone quarries in Europe. In the 19th century, with the rise of winemaking in California, the same technology (and the same mostly Chinese work force) that was used to mine for silver in Nevada was used to blast and carve out artificial caves in the rock of the Napa Valley.
Much more than just holes in the ground
During cave tours, you can learn about the wine industry from the people who work in it every day and taste both the latest wines and library wines from previous years. Added to the gustatory pleasure of the wine is the visual delight of the cave itself. The wine caves of Napa are not merely utilitarian warehouses for barrels. Many of them have been carved, decorated and artistically lit by their owners and are watered by underground rivers. Think of the subterranean kingdoms in Tolkien’s novels, and then imagine them with a lot more class. Some of them are set up to cater dinners. No matter what the weather is doing outside, it will be cool inside the cave, so bring a coat when going on a cave tour.
Cave tours of a vineyard near St. Helena
Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards in Napa Valley, a 10-minute drive from downtown St. Helena, holds tastings in its barrel caves, where current releases and library wines may be sampled and visitors can learn all about the process of making and storing the wine. Cave tastings are $65, but one tasting fee can be waived by joining their wine club or making a $100 purchase. Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards produces world-class wines at affordable prices. The vineyard is a 40-acre estate just south of Howell Mountain, and has been owned and operated by the Anderson family since 1983. Anderson’s wines are sold online and in five locations in Napa Valley, and many other locations nationwide.