Cave Drill at Neibaum/Coppola

Planning a Wine Cave is a Team Effort

On the (sub)surface, digging a wine cave seems like it would be a much simpler project than constructing a building from the ground up.

But according to Sash Williams, founder of Williams Associates Engineering, "building a wine cave isn’t just digging a hole in the ground. It requires as much planning as building a winery and then some because of the inherent complications in building underground. And essential to the planning is coordination between the architect, builders, engineers, and even the wine maker and marketing department."

Although a seemingly obvious question, the first step needs to be to determine what is the wine cave is going to be used for: storage, as a marketing tool, or even to house the entire winery operations? And in what proportions?

Scott Lewis, Principal Engineering Geologist and Senior Tunneling Consultant for Condor Earth Technologies, who has been involved in 175 wine cave projects, says that optimizing the planning of a project involves assessing the geology, geography, land use limitations, and goals and objectives of the client. "For example, one of our clients had a sloping site, and the only good place to build a winery was already being used to grow grapes. So when all factors were considered, taking the entire wine manufacturing process underground was the best option."

In his article "Carving out a niche: avoid pitfalls when planning a wine cave," William A. Fuchs says, "Even if you’re planning a cave purely for storage purposes, realize that the benefits are variable and depend on many factors, including geothermal gradient, ground cover, cave waterproofing and ventilation."

If storage is a primary objective, Lewis says that total barrel storage requirements and how they will be stacked needs to be taken into consideration in planning a wine cave.

Dr. Fuchs adds, "Be sure to allow enough space for equipment storage. If you do not plan a space for this underground, your cave is doomed to perpetual clutter."

A wine cave can also be a marketing differentiator by attracting visitors for tastings, concerts or events. For this reason, Dr. Fuchs says, "Entertainment areas should be considered in all caves – they’re easily integrated into the functional part of the cave, and they can become larger barrel storage rooms when not being utilized for hospitality purposes."

Dr. Fuchs believes that the best way to coalesce your vision for the form and function of a wine cave project is to visit other caves with the cave builder and winemaker. "Look at the overall layout, portal configuration, doors, lighting, wash stations, plumbing, cave finish, floors, drainage, leakage, mold, barrel storage methods, aesthetics, ventilation, intersections, architectural style, dimensions and entertainment areas."

"More planning upfront will result in a project proceeds efficiently and avoids delays and cost overruns," says Williams.

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