The Way Inglenook Converted a Cave to a Winery

Inglenook Estate Winery turned to the earth when looking for a solution to building its new storage and production facility.

While a number of wineries use caves for barrel aging and storage, Inglenook’s yield this year is heading to its new 22,000 square-foot production cave, where every stage of the winemaking process following harvest will take place.

The production facility includes the addition of 120 insulated, remotely-controlled stainless steel fermentation tanks. Each is assigned to a different block on Inglenook’s 235-acre organically farmed vineyard. 

“To have each tank allocated to one specific vineyard block is extraordinary, and this level of customization in our winemaking is an important advantage that enhances our ability to make the world-renowned wines for which Inglenook is known. We now have infinite possibilities, which will lead to even more complex wines,” said Philippe Bascaules, Inglenook’s director of winemaking. “I am very proud of everything the Inglenook team and our partners have accomplished in designing this new winery cave.”

Adding Technology 

The cave that’s tucked beneath a knoll on the estate takes a cue from winemaking facilities from centuries ago. It does not require heating and cooling and is safe from the threat of wildfire. No flammable elements were used and the entire cave is protected by sprinklers.

Each fermentation tank is equipped with a dedicated pump for pump-overs and thermal regulation hardware. 

Software allows the winemaking team to remotely monitor subtle fluctuations in fermentation dynamics as the grapes ferment in the tanks just after being harvested. For example, the winemaking team will be notified immediately if a fermentation stalls in the middle of the night, and they can remotely and instantly increase the temperature within the tank, ensuring the quality of the wine at a critical time in the winemaking process. The tanks range in size from one-half ton to 27 tons, and are proportionately tall and narrow in diameter. 

Bascaules said he favors tanks for red wine fermentation that are somewhat taller and narrower in diameter, which results in a smaller extraction surface relative to the juice volume, which he explained gives the winemaking team greater control over the extraction, ultimately leading to more nuance. 

Building and Design

The Inglenook team broke ground on the new winery at the end of 2018. The cave was excavated under a hillside vineyard near the estate’s chateau, which was built in 1887. 

Because it involves a natural cave, the design includes 30 miles of wire that runs through six miles of conduit, 1,000 cubic yards of low CO2 concrete. It also has a separate room for white wine fermentation. 

For structural integrity, a diamond-shaped cave was excavated around a solid, central mass – making it similar to a baseball diamond. The “pitcher’s mound” is the solid central support, surrounded by a diamond-shaped tunnel that extends from “home plate” at the cave’s eastern entrance, north to “first base,” west to “second base,” south to “third base,” and back to home plate, the cave’s portal. 

The portal’s look was inspired by the design of the entrance to the caves at Château Lafite Rothschild. During harvest, Inglenook’s organically farmed fruit will be carefully sorted by hand in the portal and bottling will occur in that same area later in the year.

An elaborate panel that controls all of the electricity, utilities, Wi-Fi, and customized controls for each tank, extends along the wall near “first base,” in the northern corner of the diamond-shaped tunnel. This is also where Inglenook’s new cave connects with the winery’s pre-existing 16,000 square-foot cave, which was excavated in 2003 to house the wines as they age in barrel beneath the estate’s chateau. A gentle two-foot slope from the back of the winery to the front, plus trench drains throughout, ensure that run-off from the winery and its crush pad will not flow into the estate’s storm drains.

The project began with excavation of the cave by Nordby Wine Caves and work progressed with Nordby Construction Company as General Contractor for the project.

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