Photo: Palmaz Vineyards

7 California Wine Caves You Can Visit for a Tasting Unlike Any Other

California Wine Food + Drink
by Molly O'Brien Jul 6, 2022

If you’ve ever visited a winery or gone on a vineyard tour, you might have heard the staff talk about the wine cave – an underground structure dedicated to the storing and aging of wine. However, wine caves aren’t just for storing wine. Wine caves are a useful method for naturally creating the ideal conditions for storing wine, because the caves (or crayères as they are known in France) have high levels of humidity and can be temperature controlled to aid the aging process. Wine caves are thousands of years old, and were (and remain) the ideal way to protect the aging wine from sunshine and heat.

Their practical uses aside, wine caves but are also spots where vineyards host events and wine tastings, and offer exploration experiences. Here are seven wine caves with especially interesting histories across the state of California that all wine lovers should visit.

Wine caves in California everyone should see

Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma

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Photo: Buena Vista Winery

Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma calls itself the birthplace of the California wine movement. It was  founded way back in 1857 by Count Agoston Haraszthy. Buena Vista is even officially designated as a historical landmark in Sonoma. It’s just five minutes from Sonoma’s charming downtown plaza, making it a perfect stop on any Sonoma wine tour. A visit to the historic Buena Vista Winery offers visitors the chance to explore a network of caves that were dug by hand more than 150 years ago out of the mountains. According to rumor, the spirit of The Count himself still haunts the winery and in the caves from the afterlife.

Palmaz Vineyards, Napa

palmaz vineyard-wine caves

Photo: Palmaz Vineyards

Nestled into Napa Valley is the 64-acre Palmaz Vineyards, which has a rich history that dates back to the Gold Rush era of the 1800s. Owned and operated by Dr. Julio Palmaz and his children Florencia and Christian, this winery was built into an 18-story cavern that has been engineered to create a maze of tunnels and domes at the base of Napa’s Mount George.

And this wine cave isn’t just for looks — it actually serves as a remarkable feat of functional engineering for the winemaking process. This entirely subterranean 100,000 square-foot structure was built 18 stories down deep into the bedrock of Mount George to maximize gravity-flow and gravity-finish systems for winemaking.

Oak Mountain Winery, Temecula

Oak Mountain Winery is a fun, family-owned winery on the De Portola Wine Trail in Southern California’s Temecula wine country. This winery is home to Southern California’s only subterranean mined wine cave, which sits 104 feet below the grounds of the winery and can be explored in a multitude of ways.

Visitors can dine inside the cave, or embark on a signature Cave Wine Tasting Tour to indulge in more than a few varietals of wine like the winery’s fittingly named Cavewoman Red or the signature raspberry and strawberry champagnes. Guests can learn the history of Oak Mountain Winery and Temecula wine country while embarking on this special and immersive experience before retiring to the patio and enjoying the gorgeous views of the vineyards in the valley below.

JUSTIN Winery, Paso Robles

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Photo: JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery

JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles artfully combines traditional Old World wine making  methods such as hand-harvesting and small-barrel aging in French oak, with the sophisticated New World technology of modern winemaking.

Visitors can embark on a cave tour on-site paired with a tasting of the current vintage of the flagship blend from JUSTIN — the ISOSCELES blend. The tour and tasting are led by an advanced JUSTIN Wine Guide, who has completed educational credentials through the Court of Master Sommeliers, Society of Wine Educators, or the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. After the cave tour, continue to enjoy wine tasting or some bites at the on-site restaurant — or for those looking to splurge, book a night at the on-site JUST INN and spend the entire evening relaxing amongst this scenic vineyard setting.

The wine caves at JUSTIN are temporarily closed for maintenance and will reopen early next year

Testarossa Winery in Greater San Jose

Testarossa, which means red head in Italian, was named after the standout scarlet locks that inspired the nickname founder Rob Jenden earned while he was living as a university student abroad in Italy.

Adorned with dramatic stone walls and majestic vaulted ceilings, this winery’s cave was originally built in 1938 for the San Francisco World’s Fair — but it has since been transformed into an upscale event space. Outfitted with elegant decor like chandeliers that tastefully reflect off the cool stone walls, this cave sits adjacent to the property’s forested patio space and can be a fabulous venue for hosting an exclusive dinner party, or wedding reception or intimate get together between friends and family.

Wente Vineyards, Livermore

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Photo: Wente Vineyards

Dating back to 1883, Wente Vineyards in Livermore, California claims it is the oldest continuously operating vineyard in the United States. It survived prohibition, multiple world wars, half a dozen economic downturns, and now a global pandemic. The Wente Estate is also a registered California Historical Landmark.

Wente has the only wine caves in the Livermore wine region, which were hand-dug in the late 1880s to early 1890s. The caves serve as a natural way to keep wine at a consistent temperature — even in the warm summer when temperatures in the Livermore Valley can rise upwards of 100 degrees. In the past, the winery has offered tastings and tours within the cave to the public, but at the moment the caves are primarily serving as a space for private events such as weddings and intimate gatherings.

Bella Vineyards, Healdsburg

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Photo: Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves

Bella Vineyards + Wine Caves is a family-run winery with vineyards in both the Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley regions. This winery features 7,000 square feet of caves hidden beneath its hilly Lily Hill vineyard.

Here, wine adventurers can take a trip through the magical depths of the underground passageways while tasting the winery’s best selection of zinfandels and getting a behind-the-scenes look at the winemaking and barrel aging process. Guests can book the Bella Tour Immersive Winery Experience to explore the wine caves with a private group and wine expert, and gain access to club-only wines.

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