THE CALDWELL TOMMYKNOCKER
They say most folks who spend a lot of time underground will see a Tommyknocker sometime in their life. We’ve spent a fair bit of time deep in the earth in our 20,000-square-foot cave, and we reckon they’re right.
We started digging the cave in 2002 with the help of a few guys from a company called California Wine Caves. The young Mikey Rose was part of the crew, and Caldwell is where he saw his first and only Tommyknocker.
As he tells it …
“We were about a year into the project, so everything was pretty much mined out and all the excavating was complete. It was an early morning and I was tying up the structural steel in the big room ─ down the big hall from the tasting room. I was working away when all of a sudden the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I looked to the left and I saw something in the crosscut section that connects all the tunnels. It was pretty dark and whatever it was got from the tank room past the entrance of the tasting room and down toward the first portal door pretty fast, but I was able to make out a pair of legs, wearing dark gray wool pants and old, worn, leather-soled boots. I couldn’t see anything above the hips. It was seriously weird. I ran after it and made the turn toward the first portal but … no one was there. I knew Kevin (the old gold miner on our crew of five guys), was working outside the first portal door, so as I came out into the light of day I found him and asked, ‘Did you see someone come out this way?’
He looked at me kinda strange and said, ‘Nope, no one here.’ The next day Crowley, another old-timer on the team, says ‘I think you saw one of the wee people … a Tommyknocker.’
We spent the next two days hanging lights all through the cave because we decided we didn’t want any dark places …
Over the next few months we heard a lot of banging sounds ─ like someone was hitting one of those 55-gallon steel drums with a small hammer. The first time I heard it, it echoed through the whole cave. I thought it was the vent line (the 20-inch steel pipes that bring in the air as we dig) settling or something, but when I asked Kevin about it, he said he’d pulled the pipes out a week earlier.
Then one Wednesday morning, we had all just gotten to the site and I went to go collect the hand tools from the table where we’d put them the night before. It was like $10,000 worth of tools. And every single one of them was gone. At first we thought they’d been stolen, but as we got talking about it we couldn’t figure out how someone would have gotten inside the cave and collected all of them in the dark. The generator was locked, and that would have been the only source of light in there. As we started working that day we realized that the tools had been moved, with purpose, to all four corners of the cave. That was pretty weird. None of us really talked much about it after that.
That was it for a while. But we’d still hear knocking. And right in front of the tasting room, in that main connecting tunnel is where most of the weird stuff always happened.
Years later I was getting ready to propose to my girlfriend and decided that I wanted to pop the question in John’s tasting room. It was a special place for me because it was my first job in Napa and the one I’m most proud of. I’m especially proud of the tasting room. It came out gorgeous. So I had the night all planned. John had given me the keys and I had gone to the tasting room earlier that day to set things up just right. I had the ring and had set out a bottle of expensive Champagne. That night I brought my girl up to Auberge for dinner and afterwards brought her out to the cave. I let her walk in first and clicked on the light. The spotlight hit the bottle of Dom. It was really romantic. I dropped down onto one knee and proposed. She said yes. The next thing we hear is strum … strum … like someone was tuning an old banjo. She said, ‘What is that?’ I said, ‘That means it’s time to go.’
John called me the next morning and told me he was making mimosas with my bottle of Dom and wondered what the hell had happened.
I tell you what. I’m a grown man. I work on earth-moving machines and not much scares me. But to this day, I can’t walk through the radius tunnel in front of that tasting room without getting the heebie-jeebies.”
Now and again Joy and I still hear something or get a feeling. At one point Joy called Fred Wapapa, a highly regarded Native American elder, and had him come over to bless the cave for us. We still hear things sometimes, but we’re pretty sure it’s a good spirit ….
So where on earth did our Tommyknocker come from?
"We bought this old Dosdo mining machine from a coal mine company in Wales. The machine was being used in a mine underneath the ocean when the sump pumps failed, and everything flooded. The crew was never heard from again. Some years later, the machine was dragged out of the ocean and brought back to working order. My dad bought it from that company for $160,000 and brought it out to California. The first cave we brought it to in Napa was Caldwell.
We thought it was going to be great, but the damn thing never worked. Seems the weird stuff started happening when that machine was onsite … but who knows…."
– Mike Rose