Step into the wine cave at Clauren Ridge Vineyard and Winery, and it feels cool — no matter how blazing hot the weather is outside.
Such is the appeal of wine caves, underground facilities used to age wine in barrels at the optimum temperature, without the need for air conditioning. Wine caves are found throughout California's wine country, but a local entrepreneurial couple is introducing Oklahomans to theirs at Clauren Ridge Vineyard and Winery, 6000 W Waterloo in unincorporated Oklahoma County.
Clauren Ridge is believed to have the only wine cave in the state. Owners Kim and Thomas Ingmire say they were inspired after visits to Napa Valley to bring a taste of the culture back to Oklahoma.
“We're trying to construct a platform here that allows the public exposure to viticulture in general,” Thomas Ingmire said.
The wine cave doubles as a dining facility for wedding receptions, wine tasting dinners and business meetings, with elegant flickering lights and long banquet tables draped in shimmering tablecloths.
So far, Clauren Ridge has hosted two wine tasting dinners, one with a Titanic theme, and both sold out almost immediately after they were posted on the website.
Kim Ingmire said she has booked weddings for nearly every Saturday in 2013.
Wine making hobby grows
The couple's interest in wine making started as a hobby more than a decade ago, when Thomas Ingmire planted a few grapevines at their home, just down the street from where the winery sits now. As he found success with some, he added more. Now they have about 10 acres of mature vines that supply about half of the winery's grapes.
As the grapes became abundant, Thomas Ingmire, an emergency room doctor who studied chemistry, decided to learn how to make wine. He got the hang of it. Then one night at dinner, the couple scribbled plans for the winery on a restaurant napkin.
It took about three years to complete the half-million dollar facility. The wine cave was dug into the side of a hill and constructed with 18-inch thick concrete walls. But posh touches, such as the grape images pressed into the steps, keep the cave from looking like a basement.
“This building sort of came alive on its own. It has a soul. We just paid for the bolts,” Thomas Ingmire said.
Caves keep wine cool
Winemakers like wine caves for several reasons, said Glen Ragsdale of Glen Ragsdale Underground Associates Inc., in Angwin, Calif., a construction firm that specializes in underground projects and has been building wine caves for 30 years.
“Inside the cave is the absolute best temperature to store wine in barrels — about 60 degrees,” Ragsdale said. “And it doesn't require air conditioning. That's the natural underground temperature.”
It also reduces the evaporation rate of wine from the barrels, he said, reducing the cost of topping off the barrels. And the wine caves add mystique and another aspect of a winery tour.
At Clauren Ridge, visitors who stop by for a wine tasting receive a free tour and samples of wine-infused truffles. The veranda is open for sipping and offers a view of the young vineyard, planted about two years ago.
Thomas Ingmire said he'd love to have more wineries and vineyards open nearby, adding to the wine tour appeal found in Napa Valley.
Oklahoma now has more than 60 wineries and 500 to 600 acres of vineyards, showing exponential industry growth in just the past decade, said Gene Clifton, president of the Oklahoma Grape Industry Council. The trend toward warm, dry summers and mild winters has improved growing conditions, making vineyards more successful.
But it still takes three to four years for newly planted vines to produce a good crop, and many entrepreneurs are seeking a quicker return on investment, said Clifton, who owns Canadian River Vineyards and Winery in Slaughterville.
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