Good Eats

Winemakers Explore Charleston’s “Aquaoir”

By Jed PortmanFebruary 21, 2013

Yesterday, Jim “Bear” Dyke, president of Napa Valley–based Mira Winery, dropped four cases of 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon into Charleston Harbor.

The drop was entirely intentional. Dyke and his partners at Mira are following in the footsteps of a few European winemakers who have chosen to age their wine underwater. Some have done it out of necessity (ocean space is free), and others, noting that vintage wines salvaged from shipwrecks have been lauded for their complex, mellow character, in the name of flavor. Dyke is interested in the latter.

Though Mira is based in California wine country, Dyke, an Arkansas native, keeps his offices in Charleston. Taking into account the Holy City’s high standing in the food and beverage world, he chose to launch his new project near home.

The wine, which was guided to its undisclosed resting place on the harbor floor by a team of divers, will sit beneath several dozen feet of water in neon-yellow cages designed to protect it against strong currents and tumbling debris.

In three months, Dyke and his partners at Mira will lift the wine out and, with help from a team of Charleston-based sommeliers, subject it to scientific analysis and comprehensive taste tests comparing it to bottles aged on land in Napa. They will determine whether time spent underwater—the temperature, the pressure, the gentle rocking of the water—had any effect on the flavor of the Cabernet, which Dyke hopes will absorb something of Charleston’s unique “aquaoir.”

“This is kind of a first test,” Dyke says. “To make sure the cages work, to make sure the bottles won’t break." Just three months underwater might not impact the wine much, but, if all goes smoothly, Mira's next bottling could end up in the water for two or three times as long.

“I don’t know whether it’s going to be better or worse,” says Mira’s Gustavo Gonzalez (below, at left), a celebrated winemaker formerly of Napa powerhouse Robert Mondavi Winery. “But I think it’s going to be different.”