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Why One Napa Winery Is Experimenting With Aquaoir, Wine Aged Under Water

One Napa Valley winery wants to understand the impact of aging wine under water.

Mira wine retrieved from the ocean.
Mira wine retrieved from the ocean.
Mira Winery

Ongoing research conducted by Mira Winery in Napa, California suggests that wine aged under water matures more quickly than wine aged on land.

In recent years, as technology has enabled divers to find new, previously undiscovered shipwrecks, one of the treasures they’ve uncovered is extremely old wine. "After bringing it up and trying it, the consensus is it has aged incredibly well," says Mira winemaker Gustavo Gonzalez. But, until recently, no one has tried to understand which variables impact aging and why. "So, we built special cages and put wine in the ocean," states Gonzalez.

Mira coined the term "aquaoir" to characterize the impact of water on aging, similar to terroir and its relationship with wine. The process of maturing wine under water introduces variables to wine aged on land like light, or the lack thereof, pressure, motion and temperature or temperature variance.

Mira coined the term "aquaoir" to characterize the impact of water on aging ...

In February of 2013, Gonzalez left four cases of 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon at a depth of 60 feet to mature in a harbor in Charleston, South Carolina for three months. To stabilize one control, he ensured the water to be 55 degrees, the same temperature as wine aged on land. Gonzalez also had cages fabricated to protect bottles, while still allowing water to flow through. He adds, "We had the bottles waxed so there would be no possibility of adulteration of the wine."


Mira winemaker Gustavo Gonzalez in his Napa vineyard.

After retrieving the bottles, Gonzalez and sommelier/Mira president Bear Dyke sampled the wine blindly against the exact same wine aged on land for the same period of time to see if there was a difference between the two. "And incredibly there was," says Gonzalez. "I’ll be candid—I wasn’t expecting a great deal of difference in such a short period of time," he continues. One wasn’t necessarily better than another, but "[t]he one aged in the ocean tasted like it had aged about two years faster."

Dyke declared that they had turned a 2009 into a 2007 in three months. In addition to taste testing, the wine was chemically analyzed and the only difference between the ocean-aged and land-aged wine was in turbidity.

Mira wanted more feedback on it though, so they took the wine on a seven city, seven day tour across the country where they held blind taste tests with enthusiasts of all stripes. Among more than 120 people, nearly 100 percent said the two wines offered unique flavors. Per Gonzalez, "At that point we knew we were on to something."

Mira Wine.

Mira wine cages.

... if Mira can understand the impact of aquaoir and apply what they’re learning in the water to wine aged on land, it will be a historic breakthrough ...

But with water temperature out of the equation, Gonzalez wondered, "which of the other elements is altering the aging path of the wine?"

Curious for answers, in November of 2013, Mira aged twice as much wine for twice as long. They dropped eight cases of 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon for six months, and in November of last year they submerged five cases of the same wine along with three cases of Chardonnay.

Recently, Mira brought up the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, which had been aging under water for six months. Eager to see how it compared to land-aged wine, Mira learned that the results were similar in that there was a very clear difference between the two wines with regard to maturation. "We don’t know whyand that’s not a bad thingit’s just another variable to consider as we continue this process," Gonzalez says with regard to the amount of time the wine spent under water.

Gonzalez believes that one can be a producer of luxury Napa Valley wines and challenge conventional wisdom: "All of our wine is 100 percent Napa Valleyit doesn’t need ocean aging." But if Mira can understand the impact of aquaoir and apply what they’re learning in the water to wine aged on land, it will be a historic breakthrough that could revolutionize the way an entire industry thinks about aging wine.