When Jim Dyke, Jr. dropped 48 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon into the waters of Charleston Harbor, he wasn’t wasting booze—he was testing out a theory that could change the way vintners age wine. And his grand experiment with what he calls “aquaoir” was inspired by a happy historical accident.
Dyke, who owns Mira Winery in Napa Valley, tells Beverage Daily’s Rachel Arthur that the discovery of still-bubbly champagne in the hold of a historical shipwreck got his wheels turning. Could something in the salt water affect how wine aged, he wondered?
He began a series of experiments that involve submerging cages filled with wine bottles in salt water. The goal: to understand the ways in which factors like light, motion, temperature and pressure affect wine’s character. “We were stunned,” he told Arthur. “[The wine’s taste was] not only different, but it seemed as if the ocean had expedited the aging process while maintaining the core characteristics.”
By aging wine in water, Dyke is fighting against the industry’s long-held assumption that wine is best aged underground or in a warehouse. He looks forward to a future in which wine’s interaction with the water in which it ages (what he calls its “aquaoir”) is just as important as the terroir of the soil in which its grapes are cultivated.
The champagne shipwreck that sparked Dyke’s curiosity wasn’t the only instance of alcohol faring well under the sea: a 2014 find uncovered unexpectedly drinkable wine in a 200-year-old bottle. And Dyke’s underwater inspiration is only the latest in a series of interdisciplinary inspiration for oenophiles. Wine scientist Erika Szymanski cites an unlikely source of alcoholic inspiration—famed anthropologist Jane Goodall.