New meaning of wine cave

Humidity is a well-known enemy of wine cellars. It damages labels and causes cartons to collapse. But during a recent trip to Jenolan Caves House I just had to check out the cellar that I was told they’d established inside the cave system itself. It’s a good five-minute walk from the dining room of Chisolm’s restaurant on the first floor of the venerable 1896 Jenolan Caves House to the cave system’s entrance, in the Grand Arch. A bit far to trot every time someone orders a bottle. But perhaps they were using it only for long-term holding, and topping up the restaurant’s cellar from the cave stash?

Now, the Jenolan Caves experience is truly magical, as the advertising claims, but Chisolm’s restaurant doesn’t have a wine list to get excited about. There’s a handful of very good Aussie reds, such as various d’Arenberg (tastings), Rockford (tastings) (including Basket Press) (tastings) and an unusually good range of Summerfield (tastings), but they’re fairly young. It turns out that a previous manager decided just a few years ago to start a cellar in the caves.

The Jenolan cave system is the oldest in the world and includes hundreds of caves, of which nine are open to the public. Inside, it’s a constant 15 degrees Celsius all year-round: ideal for storing wine. The present restaurant manager, a French Canadian named Marie, showed me the cellar, which is located near the start of the Imperial Cave tour. But it’s more a bit of fun than a serious cellar. It’s really too far for a staff-member to walk to pick a bottle for a specific diner, especially in bad weather. They have to unlock a door, climb steps and descend a tunnel. As well, the humidity is so high (about 95 per cent; higher during rain events) that it plays havoc with the labels. Australia is a dry country, where most cellars have the opposite problem: they’re too dry. The ideal humidity for a wine cellar is around 65 to 75 per cent. It’s a pity: wine cellared in the Jenolan Caves could have special appeal. 

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