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Gimmick Alert – Underwater Élevage

We all love a story of ancient treasures, long-lost, found again. Whether it’s the Antikythera mechanism, or ancient coins (curious coincidence – this report includes comments from curator of archaeology at Manx National Heritage Allison Fox, who was in my A-level Physics class for a year back in the 1980s – it’s a small world) or rare Roman armour, it doesn’t really matter. You don’t have to be an academic specialising in ancient knowledge of astronomy or a military historian to understand the special significance of such finds.

So too with ancient bottles. Occasionally a shipwreck with a few intact bottles turns up. One has been in the news in the UK recently, with the forthcoming auction of bottles found at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Opinion on the quality of such bottles can vary. In the last few weeks they have been described by Tom Stevenson as being for “historical interest, not pleasure”, but speaking last year of bottles from the same find, Essi Avellan MW tasted them and declared them to be “very much alive and remarkably fresh”. Whether or not the quality is good, however, we can be reasonably certain that the prices these bottles will fetch are likely to be very high. Old, rare, shipwrecked bottles clearly generate some interest. We are fascinated by the story, and I for one am prepared to ‘buy into’ the story. In other words, part of me understands why people want these bottles, in the same way I can understand why others find ancient coins and other treasure troves to be of interest.

But what about bottles submerged not centuries ago, and not because of some fateful storm and shipwreck, but on the whim of the winemaker? Do these incite the same interest?

Franck Labeyrie, proprietor of Château du Coureau in Bordeaux, already has a track record of selling wine that has been submerged, the cuvée in question a white wine which sees out six months on the sea bed in the famous lagoon at Arcachon. He has been experimenting with more extreme submersions recently though, with an attempt to sink bottles into an Atlantic trench at a depth of 1000 metres. Reading this report (in French) it seems as though he failed at his first attempt, having experienced difficulties, first with the increased pressure at 200 metres dislodging the cork, secondly a technical difficulty with the robot submersible. Not to be dissuaded, he will try again. The ‘experiment’ is bankrolled by Michel Rolland, a family friend, who I assume is content to pay for the second try. In the meantime though, my ‘gimmick’ alarm bells are ringing very loudly indeed. Especially when I learn that the wine he sinks in Arcachon sells for 2-3 times the usual price.

More recently, the team from Château Larrivet-Haut-Brion have been trying, but this time not with bottles, but with a tiny wooden cask, as reported here (in French again). Remarkably, Bruno Lemoine, director of the château, claims he was inspired by stories of wines aging well at sea (Bandol, Madeira, the wines of Cos d’Estournel, etc.). Somebody should tell him the wines were on a ship at the time though, not thrown overboard! The 56-litre barrel seems to have been lined with stainless steel, nevertheless – surprise, surprise – the Cuvée Neptune as it has been named is better than the wine aged on land in a similarly small cask. Naturally it seems to have enjoyed some ‘osmosis’ with the sea, no doubt picking up some delicious salty flavours along the way. Needless to say, my gimmick alarm is going like the clappers at this one.

If you were a winemaker, would any of this convince you to begin aging your wine underwater? And as a consumer, would you be prepared to shell out more for Cuvée Neptune against Cuvée Tellus, the wine from the barrel stored on land?

2 Responses to “Gimmick Alert – Underwater Élevage”

  1. sounds like a candidate for a Tui “Yeah right” billboard chris. A local brewery engages the public to contribute topical billboard sayings dripping with sarcasm or irony and something around this would def fit the bill.
    Google tui yeah right billboard images and check oput the NZ sense of humour; but could the wine snobs handle it?

  2. Thanks Alan, I took a look, some funny billboards there!