The art of ageing wine underwater

By Thomas Carr

1 Oct, 2021

Ageing wine in oceans, lakes and even steel vats full of water hundreds of kilometres from the sea is gaining traction around the world. But is there merit to this emerging trend labelled by some as a marketing ploy? 

Back in 2010, a group of divers off the coast of Finland’s Äland archipelago found bottles of champagne, some 200 years old, preserved in near-perfect condition 50 metres below the Baltic’s sparkling surface.

The wrecked sailing vessel, reportedly dating back to the 1820s, was carrying goods for trade. Among the sunken treasures found was a stash of champagne from house Veuve Clicquot; bottles that have since sold for record prices at auction, bringing a new meaning to the notion of vintage champagne.

To commemorate this landmark discovery, Veuve later buried 300 bottles and 50 magnums in the Baltic sea in an ageing experiment that will see bottles retrieved and analysed periodically over a 40 year period.

And they aren’t the only ones doing it. Wineries from Spain and France to Italy, Greece and Chile are trying their hand at this new way of thinking. 

Ben Ranken of Wilimee WinesBen Ranken of Victoria's Macedon Ranges is ageing wines under water. Image: David Hagger

The sea offers near-ideal conditions for ageing. Low light and constant cool temperatures lure those who believe wine ages differently at 50 metres compared to that of traditional cellaring methods. 

Here in Australia, Dominique Portet Winery in Victoria’s Yarra Valley submerged several barrels of their 2011 Ten Men Shiraz, after being inspired by what was happening abroad. And while their foray into underwater ageing was short lived, this abstract approach remains an exciting area of interest, particularly in the heart of Victoria's Macedon Ranges.

Five years ago, Ben Ranken from Wilimee Wines submerged 20 dozen bottles of his pinot noir in 5000-litre tanks. 

A bottle of Wilimee Pinot NoirBen's first underwater vintage, his 2015 Pinot Noir 5 Years Underwater Matured. Image: Sigurvin Palsson

This year marks the release of Ben’s first underwater vintage, and we were fortunate enough to do a side-by-side comparative tasting with his traditionally cellared 2015 Wilimee Pinot Noir while discussing the weird and fabulous world of underwater ageing.

Tune into this week’s episode of By the Glass to get the lowdown on this emerging trend.