Erin Doman on May 27, 2015 0 Comments A couple of years ago, divers uncovered 79 perfectly preserved bottles of Champagne from a 170-year-old shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. Wine enthusiasts all over the world were intrigued. In fact, 11 of these bottles were sold at an auction for $156,000. One of the 79 bottles sold for the equivalent of roughly $17,000 by itself. People were initially interested in the bottles of Champagne because they were so rare—one of the brands (Juglar) had been defunct since 1829. What wine enthusiasts quickly discovered was that the Champagne was of superior quality due to the near-perfect conditions they had been in for 170 years. Divers found the bottles laid horizontally—incredible, seeing as how they survived a shipwreck without breaking and then managed to land in such a way. The bottles were also left undisturbed in the dark and low temperature of the Baltic Sea floor. Now, certain wineries–specifically Mira Winery in California–are taking this discovery as a cue to start their own experiment: ocean-aged wine. Aquaoir Many modern wineries have expressed interest in this new trend in the world of winemaking. Combining two relevant terms of the practice—“aqua” and “terroir”—winemakers created the portmanteau “aquaoir” to describe the process of sinking bottles of wine to the bottom of the ocean and leaving them to age. The obvious difference between traditional terroir and aquaoir is that one is based on dry land and the other is based in water. Terroir is dependent on soil, climate, and elevation–conditions that have great variety around the world. Aquaoir is a more easily predicted style of wine branding that has the potential to be perfected based on wine tasting comparisons. The bottom of the ocean has extremely desirable conditions for aging wine. It provides darkness and a gentle ebb that promotes wine aging without shaking it around too much. Location is important, though. The ideal temperature for aging wine is approximately 55 degrees, so plenty of research and monitoring is still required in order to ensure that the wine is aging in optimal conditions. Current Wine Some wineries have become quite active in this practice. Wineries that have taken part in this experimental aging strategy include Bisson Abissi Prosecco from Liguria, Italy, Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion of Léognan, France, Gaia Winery of Santorini, Greece, Henri Maire from Arbois, France, and others. One of the pioneers in this new fad is Mr. Jim “Bear” Dyke of Napa, California. Dyke runs the Mira Winery in Napa Valley, and, upon hearing about the shipwreck in the Baltic Sea where the Champagne was found, decided he was going to try to experiment with the concept. The Mira Winery successfully brought their first batch of ocean-aged wine out of South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor in May of 2013. The wine–Cabernet Sauvignon, to be precise–had been allowed a full three months of aging at 60 feet below the ocean surface. As for the results of the experiment…it went well. The winemakers at Mira Winery tasted the ocean-aged wine against the same kind of wine that had aged in a cellar, but could not necessarily say which wine was better. The two wines took very different turns during their individual aging processes: the ocean-aged wine being complex and open, similar to a wine that had been cellared for several years, while the cellar-aged wine was more refined. The winemakers of Mira Winery noted the vast differences between the two wines, and admitted that they have much to learn on how to perfect this new aging technique. When Mira Winery took their ocean-aged wine to a laboratory, they were shocked to see that the wine had a near identical chemical makeup to the wine that was aged on land. The only major difference was the ocean-aged wine had a slight variance in turbidity from the land-aged wine. Legal Issues Many nations have rules and regulations regarding what can go in their protected oceans. Wineries will typically have to seek legal affirmation before they are able to sink their bottles into the sea, depending on the nation. It took many of the participating wineries some time to gain permission from their authorities, but eventually they were all able to sink their wines. Even in the United States, aquaoir is currently being evaluated for its impact on the environment as well as the possibility that the wine is exposed to contaminants in the ocean, such as gasoline and sewage. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) are investigating the practice of selling these ocean-aged wines and are in the process of determining its legality. This would prohibit wineries such as Mira from selling their aquaoir wines, but not necessarily from making them. The Future for Aquaoir With all this being said, it is difficult to predict where this trend will go and what wineries will adopt the practice. Because ocean-aging wine is still in its infancy, many winemakers might be reluctant to spend the time, money, and energy with the process. Of course, this process is also limited to wineries along a coastline, which also means that the spreading of this trend is rather limited. With the unpredictability of the outcomes of ocean-aging, the lack of proper land and resources, and potential legal troubles, it may be that the trend of ocean-aging wine is much more trouble than it is really worth. However, that does not mean that it is going to disappear. In the future, I look forward to seeing a new, perfected wave of this aquaoir wine.