For more than 3,000 years, especially in Europe, caves were coveted as the perfect means by which to store and age the great wines of the world. Caves provide the ideal wine storage environment as they are naturally cool with just the right amount of natural humidification. This combination is ideal for fine-wine aging. At Rutherford Hill Winery, we are fortunate to have the largest wine cave in Napa Valley.
Rutherford Hill was one of the first wineries in the Napa Valley to build caves using modern technology and also one of the first to use a pallet-stacking system in those caves. Year-round, 8,000 French and American oak barrels age wine in an ideal, consistent storage environment of 59ºF, and up to 90 percent humidity. This high humidity level creates a situation that favors the evaporation of alcohol. This allows us to pick our grapes at their ripest point, therefore containing more sugar. While this might naturally lead to wines with higher alcohol content, our caves foster the natural evaporation (referred to as the "angel's share") that needs to occur, allowing our winemakers to maintain the graceful ripe fruit characteristics of our wines.
The first cave at Rutherford Hill was excavated from 1984 to 1986 and was comprised of two portals (one seen above) and six linear caves, 14 feet in circumference. A Welsh mining machine was used, which can cut through material seven times harder than concrete and is similar to the handheld augers used in modern day mining to carve through rocky material. After the tunnels were cut, the cave surfaces were stabilized with shot-crete, a material composed of sand, cement and pea gravel. The mountain into which these caves were bored consisted of a 12-foot tuffa (a porous rock) cap, topping a base of various forms of serpentine stone.
The second cave was excavated from 1986 to 1989. This excavation added a series of connecting tunnels, a rear cave and a grotto (50 feet by 50 feet) used today for special events. The entire system extends nearly a linear mile. Aesthetic improvements to the existing caves were begun in February 2000, including a fresh layer of shot-crete on the interior cave walls and an enhanced lighting system with sconces and chandeliers. These improvements supported Rutherford Hill's expanding demand for special events at the winery.
The continuous attention to detail displayed in the construction of and ongoing improvements to the cave system exemplifies the commitment to quality of the Terlato family, and underscores their dedication to excellence.