05/22/2013 12:41 EDT | Updated 07/22/2013 05:12 EDT

Watery vintage: Winery recovers cases that sat at bottom of Charleston Harbor for 3 months

CHARLESTON, S.C. - 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 back in February by the Mira Winery of St. Helena, Calif.

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

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

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 harbour 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.


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