An underwater cellar: Californian winery ages wine under the sea

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

The winery submerges wine in Charleston Harbor
The winery submerges wine in Charleston Harbor
A California winery is aging wine not in cellars, but in the depths of the ocean – a method it believes could revolutionize the way the industry thinks about the process.

Although the ocean-aged wine retains the same chemical properties, the results of the ongoing project suggest the characteristics of the ocean can speed up aging and develop the taste of the wine.

Mira Winery is looking at how the ocean’s forces of temperature, pressure, motion and light (or lack of) affects wine aging. The lessons learned could influence how this process is done in the future.

Inspired by a shipwreck

The winery’s concept of ‘aquaoir’ began when president Jim ‘Bear’ Dyke Jr. noted that champagne salvaged from a shipwreck had fared extremely well, eventually auctioned off at a ‘crazy price.’

“We’re a relatively new winery in the Napa Valley, and we really wanted to think creatively about our processes,”​ he told BeverageDaily.com. “We got to the aging process and it seemed accepted practice to put it in a warehouse or cellar, based on the history of the wine industry. We thought: there’s an opportunity to challenge that assumption.”

In the same way that ‘terroir’ considers the unique properties of the land where grapes are grown; ‘aquaoir’ looks at the interaction of bottled wine with a body of water.

The experiment started in February 2013, submerging four cages (48 bottles) of 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon in Charleston Harbor.

Now, the winery has established the practice of submerging eight cages every November, and retrieving them six months later in May. It will record what happens to each new batch, as well as re-visiting older batches.

The underwater housing has been designed to withstand the harsh underwater environment and ensure the bottles don’t break; while still allowing the motion of water to reach the wine.

President Jim -Bear- Dyke Jr and Winemaker Gustavo Gonzalez 2
President Jim 'Bear' Dyke Jr and Winemaker Gustavo Gonzalez

‘We were stunned’

The project is looking how factors – pressure, temperature, light, and motion – can impact the characteristics of aged wine. The winery found the chemical properties of ocean aged wine remained the same, but the taste changed.

“You take the wine out of the ocean and taste it against the wine aged on land,” ​said Dyke, who has tested every submerged batch himself. “We were stunned, it was not only different, but it seemed as if the ocean had expedited the aging process while maintaining the core characteristics.”

The challenge now is to find which factors change wine, and how this knowledge can be applied to standard aging of wine in cellars. 

“You have to understand what each of the factors do,” ​said Dyke. “It’s a young experiment. You don’t start out knowing what the results will be. You’re very open and willing to make adjustments as you go along. Sometimes your objective can change during the experiment.

Speed is king

“We were exploring if there would be a different impact based on the different elements. The conclusion: we can revolutionize how the entire industry thinks about aging wine.

“It’s not about putting thousands of cases in the ocean, but applying the elements that expedited the aging process to wine aged on land.”

In an age where speed is of the essence, Dyke believes the lessons from ocean aging could have a monumental impact.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect wine – we have different palates, tastes, preferences – but it seems to be that whatever is happening in the ocean is accelerating the aging of the wine. That’s what I think is really interesting – no one wants to wait for anything, it’s all about quicker and faster.

“It’s a huge canvas – and we’ve only just begun.”

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BDT

Related topics: R&D

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