Wine gets its sea legs in underwater aging experiment

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(CNN) — A mid-winter swim into 51 degrees Fahrenheit water doesn’t sound like a smart idea – even if it is in the Charleston Harbor.

But, 48 bottles of Mira Winery’s 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon are taking a three-month long dip to find out if aging wine underwater can affect the wine’s chemistry and taste.

Jim Dyke Jr., President of Mira Winery and a Charleston native, said he’d heard of Europeans who had experimented with underwater aging and storing, but no American, to his knowledge, had ever done it.

Since many of the factors in the warehouse aging of Mira’s wines (temperature, motion and darkness) can be achieved underwater, “we thought we should give it a try,” he said.

In order to pull off the experiment, Dyke’s team built custom permeable and environmentally conscious cages that were strong enough to hold the bottles and still allowed water to flow around them.

On Wednesday morning, divers took the cages and fastened them to the bottom of the ocean, where they will stay for the next three months.

The cages are equipped with devices that will collect data to let Dyke and his team know exactly where they are.

Dyke accepts that some people might see the underwater aging experiment as a gimmick, but he stands behind his product.

“I’ve always thought of marketing ploys as tools to convince someone to buy something that’s not a quality product,” he said. “We have a high quality product. We think we’re being innovative.”

At the end of May, divers will retrieve the cases and conduct chemical tests on the bottles, but Dyke said he’s also interested in taste. His expectations though, much like those of the sommeliers and wine enthusiasts he’s talked to, are measured.

“I don’t think [the wine] will be better or worse. It’s likely to just be different.”