May, 2 2005 Issue
YOU DO WHAT?
Wine Cave Digger
Brian Simmons, General manager of Bacchus Caves,
By Julia Boorstin
I was in Nevada gold mining for 12 years. When things got slow in the gold
market, this sounded interesting, and now I've been doing it for three
years. We build big caves for commercial wineries to make their wine,
sell, and store it. The biggest was 19,000 square feet and took a year and
a half. We also dig personal caves, which are usually about 1,000 square
feet. It's a niche market —people want caves for all sorts of things, like
dining rooms, movie-screening areas, to hold parties down there.
We generally need some type of hill to build a real cave, and you need to
have a decent combination of rock and soil. Sometimes the ground is too
hard for our equipment to cut, so we blast it with dynamite, but most of
the time we use a large cutting machine. Gravity is really the thing we're
overcoming. How fast we go depends on ground conditions. The tunnels are
15 feet wide, and you may be able to advance the tunnel up to 20 feet a
day, but occasionally it's as little as three feet. It's pitch-dark in
there, so we use construction string lighting. I wear a light on my head,
and I can't live without it.
I'll spend around ten hours in the cave a day —I really don't mind being
in the dark. It's incredibly gratifying because you're beating Mother
Nature and gravity on a minute-by-minute basis. A lot of the personal
caves are in cities like L.A. That can be a little tough —everyone wants
things tailored to them. Plus, I'm used to being out in the hills. I get
claustrophobic in the big cities. Would I ever build a cave for myself?
I've always thought that a subterranean or partially subterranean house
would be a great thing. I don't know how fancy I'll make it, but it's a
great use of space on a hillside.