Spelunking for Wine
Take a tour of Rombauer Vineyards’ wine cave for an unforgettable wine-tasting experience.
Courtesy of Rombauer Vineyards
If bellying up to another tasting room bar feels like “been there, done that,” make your way to the Cave Tour and Tasting at St. Helena’s Rombauer Vineyards. This subterranean wine-aging labyrinth, which took three years to build into the mountain, was completed in 1998 but only opened for touring last fall.
We start the appointment-only tour up on the hilltop winery’s patio, a perch with some of the most expansive and stunning western exposures of the Napa Valley. A stone path spirals down through the beautiful gardens to the cave’s giant barrel-shaped door.
Our guide, Christian Diaz, leads us through the almost 2,000 feet of winding caves, where we are educated on the wines and treated to tastes of six different vinos while videos elaborate on elements of the vineyards and the winemaking process. “There are 2,500 barrels down here stacked two layers high on iron racks,” Diaz says as we approach our first tasting: the 2015 Rombauer Proprietor Selection Chardonnay.
The 90-minute tour is a respite from the warm summer air: It’s a cool 62 degrees with 80 percent humidity inside the caves, ideal conditions for aging wine. (Tip: Bring a sweater or jacket.)
At another tasting station, where we sip 2013 Diamond Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, a demonstration barrel cut in a cross section shows the various levels of toasting inside. “The barrel’s toast level is like the spices for a cook,” says Associate Winemaker Luke Clayton. The darker toast brings flavors of mocha and spice whereas the lighter toast offers a subtle smokiness, he explains.
Having finished our tour, we emerge back into the sunshine. Though the warm air is welcome, our foray underground is an experience we won’t forget anytime soon. rombauer.com.