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Napa Valley winery experiments with aging wine in ocean

  • Bottles of cabernet sauvignon in protective steel cages, left, are ready to be loaded onto a boat in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)

CHARLESTON, S.C. — An experiment in the age-old art of winemaking began on Wednesday as a St. Helena winery submerged four cases of cabernet sauvignon in Charleston Harbor to see how the ocean affects the aging of the wine.

Mira Winery placed the bottles of wine in yellow steel mesh cages and then submerged them offshore in an undisclosed location. In three months, the wine will be removed and subjected to chemical tests and tasting by experts to see what differences it has from wine aged on land. The winery could produce and sell underwater-aged wine in the future if the trial goes well.

While wineries in Europe have experimented in recent years with ocean aging of wine, the idea is novel in the United States, said Jim "Bear" Dyke Jr., the Charleston resident who owns the Napa Valley winery. At least a handful of European wineries have produced underwater-aged wine, some of which has been sold in the U.S.

Winemakers have long known wine recovered from sunken ships has a unique taste and the ocean is thought to have something to do with that.

Dyke and his colleagues expect the water pressure, temperature and gentle swaying from currents to produce unique effects. He would not specify the depth of the water in which the wine will be submerged.

"This is a very exciting thing for me as a winemaker," said Gustavo Gonzalez, Mira's winemaker. "When you make wine it's pretty much the same thing for everybody. You can change it up a bit but and see what happens and your cabernet may taste a little bit different from your neighbor's cabernet."

The idea is to find out if ocean aging has the potential to change that, he said.

"We'll pull it out in late May and see what the effect of the water temperature, the water pressure and, more interesting to me, the swaying motion of the water does to the wine," he said.

Michael Kaiser, the director of communications for WineAmerica, the National Association of American Wineries, said he had not heard of aging wine in water.

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