01 Made in Croatia Edivo Vina prides itself on sticking to its roots. Every facet of wine production, from the bottle and cork to its submarine storage implements, are Croatian.
On July 16, 2010, 168 bottles of sunken bubbly were found just off the coast of the Aland Archipelago, an autonomous region between Finland and Sweden.
Forty-seven of the almost 200-year-old bottles were produced by venerated champagne house Veuve Clicquot. Naturally, the dive team wasted no time in sampling some. Everything, including the carbonation, was unsullied.
It spoke volumes of the French maison’s exemplary bottling standards and had also the brand intrigued.
The house picked out a few choice bottles and submerged them in a specially-made rack called the Aland Vault for further testing.
Veuve Clicquot’s discovery may have put ocean-aged wine in the spotlight, but Crusoe Treasure Underwater Winery in Plentzia Bay, Basque, Spain, has been around since 2009. It collects wines from across the region, storing them underwater and sampling them periodically. During one of these tastings, renowned Spanish oenologist Antonio Palacios joined the team and continued to develop the self-styled underwater wine treasuring process.
What makes it so special? Well, wine is a little fussy. Store it in a landed cellar that’s too warm and champagne or sparkling wine goes flat. These as well as red and white wines also lose their aroma and flavour. Too cold and the cork dries out. Plus, they can’t be exposed to the sun either as direct light reacts with the phenolic compounds, spoiling the drink.
02 Deep Dive Cellar tours at undersea wineries are particularly in depth.
So, there’s some sense in storing wine on the seabed, which enhances and protects it during the ageing process – dubbed “aquaoir” by Mira Winery in the US, similar to terroir and its relationship with wine. After all, it’s dark down there and seawater maintains a more stable temperature than land. The constant ebb and flow also function as a sort of automated stirring of the lees, a process normally manually performed on land. Nothing is left to chance. Everything is carefully calibrated, hence the moniker of treasuring.
The only catch is that errant debris swept along by the currents might cause wineries to lose bottles. Edivo Vina, a Croatia-based winery with an undersea cellar, came up with a solution: use patented clay amphorae and surround bottles with two layers of rubber for protection. As the wine aged, barnacles, seaweed and algae slowly engulfed the container, making for an enthralling sight when visitors came calling.
Bottles are kept at a specific depth on steel racks to ensure even temperature and pressure, and minimal exposure to light.
Having an underwater wine cellar does have other benefits. For instance, it’s a great source of tourism. Both Crusoe Treasure and Edivo Vina offer diving tours and conduct tastings of both their terrestrial and aquatic varietals for comparison’s sake. The former’s cellar also acts as an artificial reef as well, attracting a variety of marine creatures.
Which brings us to the final question: how different is the taste? Connoisseurs who sampled some of Veuve Clicquot’s undersea discovery described a distinctly sweet flavour. Others suggest that the gentle rocking of the waves leads to quicker maturation, a fuller aroma and complex flavours.
As for the longevity of undersea wine ageing, the jury’s still out on that. In hindsight, though, undersea winemaking (or winemaking in general) isn’t a hard science. Yes, there’s a great deal of knowledge and expertise that go into it but a little experimentation never hurt anyone. We say: just go with the flow and see what the next wave brings.
Text Alvin Lim