By Maggie Avants
The owners of Oak Mountain Winery can see the light at the end of the tunnel—literally.
By the end of October or beginning of November, Valerie Andrews and her husband, Steve, plan to open the first wine caves in Southern California—right here in Temecula Valley Wine Country.
The caves—dug by Magorian Mine Services of Auburn, California, a company that has built many similar venues for wineries in central and northern California—add another 10,000 square feet to their facility. Other pluses include a cool, moist place to store wine barrels; a banquet room; a classroom for winemaking; a wine processing lab; and a commercial kitchen to serve food on their new patio area just outside the entrance to the large-scale underground feature.
When the Andrews purchased the vacant 10 acres on Via Verde off De Portola Road, the thought of one day adding a cave was something that had crossed their minds, Andrews said.
“Nine years ago when we bought the property it was all dirt; that was in our head but first we had to get a winery built and get open,” she said. Looking up at the vines perched 45 feet above the nearly completed cave, Andrews recalled her husband saying long ago “it was the perfect hill to put a cave in.”
In 2010, the couple got serious about it and started touring wine caves in Paso Robles, Napa Valley and other areas, she said. Then came the permitting process with Riverside County, which began in June 2012.
“This was a first for the county so it took us a year and a half and a lot of meetings with our engineers and their engineers to get the permit,” Andrews said.
Excavation started in January of this year and lasted about nine months, she said, and was accompanied by weekly and sometimes daily geologic tests and safety inspections. The couple expects final touches and inspections to take most of October.
Once it is done, their tasting room area will be relocated from an existing building to the main corridor of the cave. The soon-to-debut venue with 12-foot-high ceilings also includes restrooms and a private seating area for customers who sign up to be wine club members.
Oak Mountain Winery already serves as a wedding venue, with plans to move much of those festivities into the cave to a unique 50-seat banquet room and a bridal changing room.
Andrews did not address the cost of the project, but said almost immediate returns will be seen because storing their wine barrels underground at temperatures in the 60-degree range will eliminate evaporation and save them at least $1,000 a month.
“Now we just need to get the word out,” Andrews said. “This is the first mined wine cave in Southern California.”