While I'm far from being a spelunker, I've been to a few impressive subterranean hollows - from lava tubes in Hawaii to bat lairs in Indonesia to Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky.
But the particular cave we sipped wine in two weeks ago was, by far, the coolest. Not temperaturewise but because of its intriguing nature.
My friends in the hospitality industry and I were in Northern California's wine country to celebrate a birthday, when we were invited to Fantesca Estate & Winery above St. Helena on Spring Mountain Road. While cave tours are offered there, it is by appointment only to get in for a look and a taste.
Fantesca’s proprietor Duane Hoff pours King Richard pinot noir, named after his dad, in the cool dark recesses of his Napa Valley cave.
There are no signs to point the way, no bells and whistles going off, when you pull up the steep driveway.
In fact, if it wasn't for the fact that the "first lady of wine," Heidi Peterson Barrett, has been creating Fantesca's wines since 2008, I may not have even heard of it.
The owners are Duane and Susan Hoff, who were the top executives of Best Buy, one of America's largest retailers of consumer electronics, before they moved to Napa Valley to spend more time with their children.
"We love Hawaii," Duane told us as we toured the hilly 53-acre property with 10 acres planted in vines. "We just got a place on Oahu, and we'll spend more time there, now that the children are grown."
When Duane's on Oahu, he surfs with the likes of Jimmy Buffett.
After tasting his incredible wines, such as 2011 La Petit Rose, 2010 Chardonnay, and 2009 Fantesca Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, we learned all will flow at a Fantesca dinner Wednesday at the Banyan Tree restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.
Both Hoffs will be on island and so will Peterson Barrett. She will appear in a seminar featuring her wines Saturday, also at the Ritz, and she'll be the guest of honor at a dinner that evening.
"Heidi was one of the first women to break the ceiling on wines," says Dave Devan, her director of hospitality and retail sales. "While she doesn't like to be labeled for this, Heidi made the most expensive wine ever sold at auction."
That was Screaming Eagle. She also makes wines for her own label, La Sirena, as well as for Barrett & Barrett with Bo, her husband and winemaker for Chateau Montelena. Other wineries she makes top sellers for are Amuse Bouche, Kenzo Estate, Paradigm, Lamborn and Au Sommet.
The Barretts are also home owners on the Big Island.
After our tasting upstairs in a warehouse room with antique furniture a la Windsor Castle, Duane asked us if we wanted to taste another wine in the cave. We eagerly followed him through thick oak doors.
"The Fantesca property was originally in the dowry of Caroline Bale, when she married Charles Krug in 1860," Duane told us.
"Even then, it was recognized as prime mountain vineyard land," he continued. "In 1889 a cabernet from this property, made by Hannah Weinberger, one of the earliest female winemakers, won one of the first awards for a wine from Napa Valley."
But it was during the silver mining explosion in Napa that dozens of caves were dug to be exploited for their riches. There are 76 wineries with caves and tours in Napa today.
Fantesca's cave was updated in 1999 by Anderthal Wine Caves. It stretches a football field in length through the mountainside. Two 40-foot cross tunnels run at 90-degree angles.
Everywhere, barrels of wine lined the dark walls. It was then we saw another massive oak door on the other side. My friend said it best: "I feel like Alice in Wonderland and I'm going through the rabbit hole. What can possibly be on the other side?"
Duane opened the doors and we found a bocce court, pool, a Tuscan villa, manicured rose gardens, outdoor fireplace and a men's "crisis room," which is a cushy bar.
"It certainly makes for an easy commute to the office every day - from the house, through the cave to the winery. "It doesn't get much simpler than that," Duane said.
"It's just a once in a lifetime experience to go there, see the cave and enjoy their fantastic wines," says Tom Donovan, general manager of the Ritz on Maui. "Since they will be on island, do come and meet the Hoffs and the Barretts, and taste their wines paired with our cuisine."