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Glen Ragsdale – Underground Associates, Inc.

“It has been both a pleasure and an honor to develop relationships with our clients as we bring together their visions and our experience to create unique wine caves,” says Glen Ragsdale, founder of Underground Associates.  With each dig, the nuances of the project soon become apparent.  The geology may offer interesting surprises, and the owners bring their own touches, turning sections of the wine cave into personal monuments – some have dining rooms underground, others have car museums.

As a child Glen moved from town to town with his family, as his father worked on major highway, dam and other construction projects.  Early on, Glen’s father mentored him in the ways of heavy equipment.  After military service in the 101st Airborne Division, Glen worked his way up the tunneling side of construction, mastering the use of all types of tunneling equipment.

In 1978 Glen teamed with a childhood friend, Russell Clough, and developed Russell Clough/Underground Associates, concentrating on providing construction management for large tunneling contractors.  In 1987 they brought their company to Napa Valley and built their first wine cave at Pine Ridge Vineyards. In 1994 Russell was approached to teach at Stanford University, his alma mater, because his engineering background and years of experience would be ideal for teaching and inspiring engineering students.  Russell is now a consulting professor of engineering at Stanford.  He and his students visit the wine caves in Napa Valley as part of their curriculum.  Glen then joined with Graham Wozencroft, a very dedicated, talented and inspired engineer from England.  Together they have created many significant wine caves.

The process of creating caves is utilitarian as well as an art form, since many caves are an expression of their owners.  Each one is exciting: “The beginning and ending are the great moments of the wine-cave experience.” After more than two decades of excavation, Glen still finds himself learning through each project.

Graham Wozencroft

When Graham Wozencroft emerged from the darkness into the sunlight at the completion of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ cave, Warren Winiarski placed a wreath on his head. When the Palmaz Vineyards project came to an end the Palmaz family didn’t want him to leave.

Graham Wozencroft is the brilliant superintendent and tunnel engineer for Underground Associates. Raised just outside of Ludlow, England, a stone’s throw from the Welsh border, Graham has a lifelong passion for sports and cars.  In 1973 he graduated from the University of Nottingham with honors and distinction and a degree in mining engineering.

His first practical experience was as an assistant safety officer in charge of four canaries.  He would carry them in a cage on his visits to sites for gas detection through 20 miles of underground tunnels.  Graham shares, “They are much more reliable than gas meters – when a canary stops singing and falls off the perch dead, it’s time to get out!”

Immigrating to America in 1976 with the intention of learning more about shotcreting techniques, he experienced a good dose of cultural shock on his first job in the coalfields of West Virginia.  His accounts of those days – including one when a miner’s wife came down the bottom of the mine and fired off a round from her 357 magnum – are a bit like reading a Hunter S. Thompson novel.

In 1979 he began working as a tunnel engineer with Russell Clough and Glen Ragsdale on a wastewater project in San Francisco.  The chemistry between these guys was great, and over the course of the next seven years they worked together on projects in subzero weather in the mountain of Utah and rattlesnake–infested areas of California’s central hills.

When Russell and Glen began creating wine caves in 1987, Graham joined them right after the first phase of the Pine Ridge job and for the next three years worked in all activities as a tunnel engineering and coordinator of the shotcrete – dry and wet mix – support systems.

In 1991 he left the area to focus on projects in San Francisco and Hawaii as a concrete engineer, pile-driving engineer and project manager.  In 1994 he was project manager for an onshore/offshore microtunnel under the ocean that received the International Microtunnel of the Year award.  “Unfortunately, we had a hardhat diver fatality after the first of four drives.  I was devastated and my heart was no longer in the project.  Glen had finished the Archer Summit cave in Oregon and had picked up more work in Napa, so I decided to come back to Napa and dig wine caves.”

Since coming back to Napa, he has helped shape over 350,000 square feet of wine caves.  And after almost 40 years working every day in the tunneling business, he is a guy who has a lot of fun at work and whose enthusiasm for tunnel work is infectious.