Homer wrote about “the wine-dark sea.” But a couple of winemakers in the South of France are making it a reality.
I found this so fascinating I struggled through the article in the French newspaper L’Independant and asked vintner Laurent Maynardier a couple of questions by email, partly using my high school French as well as the magic that is Google’s French translator. (Have you tried? Pas mal, as they say.) Maynadier, who runs Chateau Champs des Soeurs with his wife, Marie –Sainte Eugenie is also a husband-and-wife operation, run by Christine and Thibaut Cazalet — says both wineries are in fishing villages in France’s Languedoc wine region with vineyards that overlook the water.
The winemakers submerged 400 bottles this week near the harbor of Gruissan with the plan of letting them age underwater for 8 months. The bottles were secured by a kind of mesh wrapping and stacked in cages before being lowered by crane into the water. Previous experiments have shown that water-aged wine has a freshness and finesse, Maynardier told the newspaper.
I’m not surprised to find this is happening in France’s Languedoc region. I visited the Languedoc last year on a trip hosted by the regional wine association and was struck by how innovative and passionate the winemakers are. None of that hidebound traditionalism one associates with Old World methods.
By the way, if you want to learn more about the Languedoc, I recommend the Outsiders website featuring several producers who’ve moved to the Languedoc-Roussillon region to explore the potential of the area. In fact, website editor Louise Hurren brought this story to my attention and was kind enough to help me out with the translation. (Google is good but it’s not quite up to capturing the flowing poetry of French expression.)
There’s a scientific point to the underwater aging, looking at temperature, assessing the effect of oxygen and monitoring the caps. Nomacorc, the big manufacturer of synthetic corks, is involved in analysis.
But the true motivation goes beyond research, Maynardier says. What keeps him and Thibaut Cazalet going despite difficult times is the fact that they have a real passion for what they do. He says, “we are following in the footsteps of generations of winegrowers who went before us — in my case, 12 generations — and we are opening up new paths for those who will come after us. This is something that few people get to experience, and we recognise this.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking Gruissan’s a spot I should put on my travel itinerary.