The Wine Underground
If you walk outside the tasting room, you’ll see a set of huge double doors. They lead into the cave, the 25,000-square-foot cavern where we age and ferment our wine. Completed in 2008, it stretches deep into the hillside to hold 10,000 barrels.
The moister air inside the cave means that less wine escapes from the barrels as evaporation. And ambient temperature varies only 5°F (from 63° to 58°) between summer and winter, which protects the wine against the temperature swings that happen in an artificially cooled building. The cool, constant temperature and high humidity under the hill save the winery money, but, more importantly, the cave allows us to produce the best wines possible.
At Alexander Valley Vineyards, we ferment and age our wine in French, Hungarian and American oak barrels. We buy our barrels from more than a dozen different cooperages, and we replace about a quarter of them every year. (The old ones go to home winemakers or get reincarnated as planters.) The staves are harvested from French or American oak forests and left to cure for two years before being toasted to varying degrees. AVV winemaker Kevin Hall then mentally matches particular barrels to individual wines. “The different toasts will affect the smoky or caramel flavors imparted to the wines,” he says. The actual forest the tree is grown in will affect whether the wine acquires spicy notes. “For Syrah I like to choose barrels that have a caramel-type toast to them. For Zinfandel, I look to a wood source that has a lot of spice.”