The art and science of winemaking can be as complicated and vast as the varietals available to mankind; an infinite number of variables determine the descriptors that define a wine; fragrance, body, mouthfeel, taste are devised by the vintner through a myriad of techniques that can be beautifully subtle, nuanced. The dirt from which the grapes are grown plays an integral part in that design; the idea of terroir is the belief that the land truly imparts something specific and unique to the grapes, an important layer to the final stratification of experience.
A relatively new technique known as Aquaoir suggests that aging wine underwater offers yet another interesting component to the art and science of making wine. But what are its virtues? Napa Valley’s Mira Winery owner, Jim “Bear” Dyke, believes aging wine beneath the surface of the ocean has potential to have a huge impact on the flavor and complexity. In fact, Dyke (who was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas) engaged in a test a few years ago in the bay of Charleston, South Carolina, submerging 48 bottles of Mira’s cabernet sauvignon for several months.
Of course, it’s not just as simple as throwing a few cases of wine overboard; rather, much work had to be done to ensure the relatively fragile glass bottles could be secured properly in the sometimes harsh subsurface environment, that includes variables for alteration in temperature, pressure, and even water current. Dyke and team devised a “cage” system made from welded steel, flat bar, and expanded metal to act as a screen that allows the wine to be stored in a modular fashion.
After four months, the wine was raised from its underwater cellar; an ideal, quiet, and peaceful environment with little light, perfect pressure and temperature, and a consistent motion that seemed to soothe the wine, as if it were a baby being gently rocked to sleep. Technically speaking, the constant rocking motion helps to keep the yeast particles moving in the wine, which has been an age old issue throughout the history of wine making, suddenly solved by nature. Who would have ever thought?
When hatched carefully from the metal cages, the wines were covered in beautiful, bumpy, coarse barnacle like objects, each completely different from the bottle next to it; a final, idiosyncratic display of its new character and metamorphosis.
The wine was blind taste tested against the same wine aged on land, and suggested that indeed the two wines were different on both the nose and taste. Before Dyke could move forward, the federal government put a hold on the project, claiming the wine had been adulterated due to potential contaminates in the bay. Regardless, Mira intends to pursue the Aquaoir technique in the future; breaking ground in the art and science of making wine.
Napa Valley’s Mira Chardonnay, aged above water, is currently available in Eleven at Crystal Bridges.