In February 2013, Mira Winery decided to sink 48 bottles of their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor. Protected by four steel mesh cages, the wine sat submerged 60 feet in the water for three months. When winemaker Jim Dyke removed the bottles and their wax seals, he said the wine tasted like it had been aged for far longer than three months. The wine now had a mature quality to it, like it had been resting for two years. He decided to repeat the process again, this time aging 96 bottles for six months.
Even though the underwater wine was purportedly delicious, Mira’s experiment initially aimed to simply turn normal winemaking on its head. Dyke brought up the point that wineries only store their juice in a warehouse at 55 degrees because of European convention. Dropping wine underwater was meant to break such traditions. However, traditions hold fast, especially when it comes to wine – and the bodies that govern it.
When the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) got word of Mira’s underwater wine, called Aquaoir, they were displeased. The government was concerned with the possible “contamination” that could occur from wine being aged in the harbor. The FDA also got involved, and soon both federal agencies were picking on the boutique winery’s experiment. Tom Hogue, a spokesperson for the TTB, chose to examine Aquaoir from the slippery slope perspective, stating that, “It…may not be a small amount of wine, but what will it grow into?” However, despite all this fretting over deadly underwater creatures wedging their way into wine bottles, the fact remains that these worries are, at the moment, unsubstantiated.
That’s right, even though the TTB has put out a document called “Advisory on the Underwater Aging of Wine” that dubs the practice “contaminated with filth,” and taking place amidst “adulterated, unsanitary conditions,” the document also spits out plenty of “mights” and “mays.” Why? Because the TTB can’t actually prove that the underwater wine Mira was producing was unsafe in any way.
So instead of doing their research and potentially allowing wine aging methods to flourish, the TTB has just shut the whole thing down, Jon Taffer style.
What’s even more ridiculous is that Hogue stated if more people wanted to experiment with underwater aging in the future, “it would be [FDA’s] determination, I assume, in a case-by-case basis,” to establish whether or not the wine is okay to drink and sell.
Let’s get this straight: the one winery practicing underwater aging are too few to actually take the time to examine, but they’re somehow harmful enough to shut down entirely? That’s just the TTB, doing its job.