Test wine fetched from the harbor

A mesh container holding a case of wine that was submerged for three months in Charleston Harbor is lifted onto a dock Tuesday.

Bruce Smith

A California winery on Tuesday recovered four cases of Cabernet Sauvignon that were submerged in Charleston Harbor three months ago in the first phase of an experiment to determine the effect of ocean aging on wine.

Divers recovered four yellow steel cages containing the wine that was put in 60 feet of water in February by the Mira Winery of St. Helena, Calif.

Jim “Bear” Dyke Jr., the Charleston resident who owns the winery, said the wine will now be sampled and chemically analyzed.

Later this year, he said, more wine will be submerged for twice as long in the harbor as the winery continues to experiment.

Wine has been aged in the ocean before by wineries both in Europe and on the West Coast. Mira wants to do a systematic analysis of the effects of such aging, Dyke said.

“There is no better place than in Charleston to make history, and that is what we have done today,” he said. “Charleston is known as a food and wine destination for its innovation, and we believe our Southern roots and Napa grapes are adding another chapter to this story.”

Winemakers have long known that wine recovered from sunken ships has a unique taste. The ocean is thought to have something to do with that.

“There are definite differences in temperature and pressure, motion and light that we don’t see on land,” said Gustavo Gonzalez, the winemaker for Mira Winery.

Part of the initial experiment was to test the steel cages to make sure they would survive being in the ocean and also to protect the wine, he said.

In the second phase, wine will be put into the water right at the beginning of the aging process. The wine that was submerged in February had already been aged for some time on land.

“The idea is to have an even better comparison with wine that has never seen shore aging and has only had water aging,” he said.

The winery bottles its wine in August and September. The next batch of ocean-aged wine will be submerged as soon as it is bottled and will likely remain in the harbor until May or June of 2014, he said.

Gonzalez said he’s hopeful that the average wine drinker, not just the connoisseur, will be able to tell the difference in ocean-aged wine.

“I’m hoping that anyone will be able to tell the difference because my feeling is the aging process will be a little slower offshore. The differences, hopefully, are a little more obvious than an expert would require,” he added.