A Cellar Unlike any Other: Aging Wine Underwater

Can aging wine undersea make it better?

CHAMP_DES_SOEURS-6To find out if that would be folly or reality, Laurent Meynadier, vigneron at the Champ des Sœurs family estate in Fitou in the Languedoc, has been trying it for more than six years. This out-of-the-box research project is carried out in partnership with Nomacorc, and the company has been closely interested in the oxygen-related research from the beginning.

Last April, the experiment was repeated for the sixth time in the oyster farms of the Étang de Leucate, a saltwater lake right by Fitou—222 bottles of white wine were hung in pouches, 4.5 meters (15 feet) below the surface.

“I have friends who farm oysters and my terraced vineyards are right above the Étang de Leucate and the sea beyond. Over time, the idea of submerging bottles underwater came naturally,” explains the enthusiastic thirteenth-generation vigneron, who runs his 13-hectare estate with his wife Marie.

Water is a Keeper

CHAMP_DES_SOEURS-9The first immersion took place in 2010, with the help of Leucate oyster farmer Sylvain Bouffandeau. Twelve steel crates and 84 bottles closed with Nomacorc closures were kept five meters under the surface, suspended alongside the oysters for three months, gently rocked by the waves, and kept at a constant temperature.

“There were a few broken bottles and some lost, but we managed to save some and to do a comparative tasting of the twin cuvées, the aquatic and the one aged in the cellar,” says Meynadier. “The undersea aging wound up being quite astonishing. The wines aged underwater showed more aromatic, lively, and fresh.”

An Innovative Project

Since that first step, Domaine du Champ des Soeurs and Nomacorc have continued on this path and submerged whites, rosés, and reds in the Saint-Brieuc bay on Brittany’s Côtes d’Armor (2012), in Gruissan in the Languedoc (2015), as well as in volcanic lakes in Auvergne in Central France (2014), where the temperature is stable between 3 and 6° C (37-43°F) all year long.

“We chose to carry out this experiment using Nomacorc closures because of their uniform oxygen transmission rate and the absence of TCA. The point is to use the experience to evaluate the impact of gaseous exchanges on a wine’s evolution,” says Meynadier. Tastings have shown significant differences, he adds, “You can’t tell where the wine is from anymore.”

CHAMP_DES_SOEURS-3Denis Sergent, a member of Nomacorc’s enology team, concurs, “The lack of gaseous exchanges is detrimental to red wines, as they need to breathe. Aged in the sea, their tannins become aggressive and they lose some color intensity. On the other hand, results are much more positive with whites and rosés, who show as fresher, more lively, and crisper. These results are in line with what we already knew about those two types of wine, which require less gaseous exchanges.”

For future experiments, the partners want to take things one step further with comparative laboratory analyses. The next results will come in about nine months, when 222 recently submerged bottles will be taken up from the Étang de Leucate.

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Six years ago, after fifteen years working as a journalist, Cécile Luquet became associate director of Clair de Lune, a communications agency specializing in wine, travel and gastronomy. Today, the agency, which employs 16 people based in Lyon, Paris and Gruissan-Plage, works with the main wine regions of France and with several major brands.

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