The wine caves at Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena are some of the oldest and most unique wine caves in California wine country. Keanu Reeves once shot scenes for a movie there and one room holds 4,000 bottles of vintage wine.
Not only that, the 19th century founders of the winery, Jacob and Frederick Beringer, used to retreat into the caves to drink, play cards and smoke cigars with their buddies. So they represent a kind of early “man cave” too.
A visit to the wine caves is a principal feature of the “Introduction to Beringer Tour,” which takes place in the Old Stone Winery, aptly named because it was originally a stone structure. When you stand outside the building you can clearly see how the two original lower floors were made of rock with the wooden floors above them added on in later years.
Stepping from the bright sunshine into the illumined interior darkness of the winery, you are greeted by rows of giant, century-old hand-carved wine casks. They do not hold wine (and never did, evidently); still, they are magnificent examples of old-time barrel-making craft. Also magnificent (and more fun) are the hand-carved portraits of Bacchus, frolicking in the buff with bunches of grapes, on a few of the barrels.
From here you pass into the wine caves, which were also built originally by hand. Ten years of hard, dangerous labor produced 1,200 linear feet of tunnel, dug into the side of Spring Mountain. The tunnels you visit on the tour have been made higher and wider than the originals, but you do get a peek into a narrow older tunnel that has been left basically as it was in the 1870s.
Since the caves are inside the earth, the temperature stays cool at around 58 degrees all the time. That is the perfect temp for aging wine, not too warm, not too cold. Beringer, which is now owned and operated by Treasury Wine Estates, no longer ages its wines in the caves or makes wine in the winery. Even so, the heady aroma of wine fills the air and the place is as authentic as it gets, so authentic that when the filmmakers for “A Walk in the Clouds” were looking for just the right place to shoot scenes with Keanu Reeves and Anthony Quinn, they came here.
The 1995 film takes place during harvest at a fictional winery in winemaking country. Fresh off his role as action figure Jack Traven in “Speed,” Reeves plays a World War II vet who falls in love with the daughter of the elderly Anthony Quinn, appearing in one of his last films. In the movie the two-time Academy Award-winning actor is gruff and ornery to Reeves’s sweet, soulful sensitivity. In real life the two men drank like fish, polishing off bottles of wine during breaks in the shooting. In a touch of verisimilitude that audiences were likely not aware of, some of the bottles stored in the cave date back to the 1940s, the period in which the film is set.
Two Hollywood movie stars drinking and affirming their manly bonds in the same place that two German-immigrant brothers did a century earlier. That is some man cave, all right. All it lacks is an ultra high def TV.
Beringer Vineyards, 2000 Main St., St. Helena. Open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m. June-Oct. 20; closing at 5 p.m. in the off-season. Introduction to Beringer Tour includes a tasting of two wines, is 30 minutes long and occurs seven times a day starting at 11 a.m. Reservations recommended. $25 per person. A longer, more comprehensive Taste of Beringer Tour includes the Old Stone Winery and Rhine House, the property’s showplace mansion and former Beringer home. 707-302-7592.