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Mind-boggling: Ten Men Wines’ barrels after sitting underwater for 14 months.

Mind-boggling: Ten Men Wines’ barrels after sitting underwater for 14 months.

TURNING water to help it turn your work into wine is a pretty tough gig to follow.

So who would have thought winemaking circa 2014 would require a snorkel and a swim suit?

Because diving classes are not yet on the curriculum of any of Australia’s university wine courses.

But experiments in the art of underwater ageing may have winemakers reassessing their gear and equipment as the maturation process shifts from the winery to the water.

By playing with the parameters of how wine is fermented and aged – oxygen exposure, temperature, darkness, pressure and agitation – winemakers are now using the deep blue sea to rethink how the industry makes a top quality drop.

In 2007 French vigneron Emmanuel Poirmeur began plunging his sparkling wine underwater during secondary fermentation.

He was one of the first to take wine ageing to the next level and soon after Italian winemaker Piero Lugano began ageing his Spumante underwater because he didn’t have adequate cellar space on land.

Lugano loaded 6500 bottles into a metal cage and lowered it 60m into the sea – where it sat for 16 months.

Four vintages and 26,000 bottles of wine later, Lugano said the absence of oxygen and slight cradle effect created by strong currents encouraged the optimal development of aromas.

While the craze is anywhere near as widely used in Australia, Ten Men Wines in the Yarra Valley has decided to float the idea and according to winemaker Ben Portet the results were fascinating,

When divers found 170-year-old bottles of Champagne at the bottom of the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland in 2010, Portet had no idea it would eventually lead him to ageing his own wine underwater.

“I am told the Champagne tastes amazingly fresh so my aim was to replicate the conditions this wine was put through,” he said.

In 2011 Portet took the plunge and dropped two large barrels of wine into a replica ocean – a large container filled with rainwater.

“A few years later I had bottled the first small parcel of Shiraz that was aged under completely submerged conditions.”

The full story appears in the July 2014 issue of Grapegrower & Winemaker magazine.

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