Wine, Food, and Mystery Theater

Cottonwood Canyon Wine Cave Hosts a Halloween-ish Evening

The cave of Cottonwood Canyon Winery.
Courtesy Photo

This Halloween weekend, Cottonwood Canyon Winery will be hosting a wonderful evening of interactive theater, food, and wine in their famous wine cave, which is set deep in a hillside of the Santa Maria Valley. Guests must be prepared to solve a murder mystery while sipping estate wines and nibbling on treats. This week, The Independent caught up with Rhonda Rantz, Cottonwood’s wine club coordinator for eight years running and this Saturday’s theatrical murder victim, to ask a few questions about the evening.

Can you give us background on the Cottonwood Canyon estate?

It was originally planted 1973 and purchased in 1988. The current wine maker is Norman Beko. The Cottonwood estate grown wines are known as being distinctly different age worthy wine. We have chardonnay, pinot noir, and syrah on the estate. The soil has a natural high-level acidity, which is conducive to aging the wines.

What makes the wine cave so special?

The cave is man-made. It was dug in the hillside in 1995 and it is quite large, 6,000 square feet. The cave is considered the perfect natural climate to age wine because it holds a constant natural temperature. This keep us from having to use resources like air conditioning to keep the cave cool and also water to keep the barrels moist. A lot of people ask if it is really underground and how deep down, but it is actually dug into a hillside so we take a nice footpath to get to it. You will hear us refer to it as the “‘caves,” because it is so large and there are three separate entrances to it.

Have you had events like the murder mystery dinner before in the cave, and how many people can it hold?

We have annual Christmas dinners in the cave for about 64 people. Now, this is a seated dinner. For Halloween, we are hoping for a similar number of people. It has been a long time since Cottonwood had a murder mystery theme for Halloween on the estate, since before my time and I have been there eight years.

What is the entertainment for the evening?

Like I said, we had a murder mystery a long time ago and so the events coordinator contacted the theater group, The Great American Melodrama, to ask them if they wanted to do the show. They agreed and then wrote a special interactive murder comedy for the winery itself. I hear there will be references to the caves, the wine, and the whole winery. It is interactive so the audience will actually be solving the murders, and yes there will be multiple murders.

Can you give us a preview of the wine tasting and food pairings for the event?

That is still being worked one…but I can say that we are offering a designated driver/non-drinker price of $67. The regular admittance, including wine, is $79.

Are costumes required?

Not at all, but they are encouraged. We will be giving away a magnum for the best costume and also, I just heard, a magnum for the best pumpkin dish! I don’t even know what you can do with a pumpkin, but I guess you can be creative and win a magnum.

What is your favorite wine from Cottonwood right now?

Ahh, hard question. I would have to say my favorite is the ‘96 Synergy. It is a Bordeaux, a Merlot and Cab blend.


Cottonwood Canyon’s mystery theater dinner will be on October 29, 5-9 p.m. inside the cave of Cottonwood Canyon Winery, 3940 Dominion Road, in the Santa Maria Valley. For more informationm call 805-937-VINE (8463).


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