An experiment with barreling French wine in the ocean proved to be a surprising success. A vineyard manager, a barrel maker and an oyster farmer teamed up to test whether wine aged at sea does indeed taste better than that aged on land.
Bruno Lemoine, who runs the cellars of Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion in the southwest Bordeaux region, asked his barrel-maker chum Pierre-Guillaume Chiberry to build him two small 56-litre wooden barrels in which to age his red wine by an extra six months.
One was to be kept in the chateau cellars, the other sunk underwater among the prized oyster beds of the Bay of Arcachon, north of Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast.
The barrel kept at the chateau was dubbed "Tellus", after the Roman goddess of the land, and the other "Neptune" after the sea god.
"Neptune" was picked up by Lemoine's oyster farmer friend Joel Dupuch and rowed out to the low tide mark, where it was chained inside a concrete chamber that kept it protected while letting the water flow in and out.
The barrel could roll around a little, and it was quite exposed to the wind and the weather. During the very lowest tides, it was briefly exposed to the air, around 25 or 30 times over a six-month period.
Both barrels were retrieved in January for the wine to be bottled, tasted and analyzed in a laboratory.
"Tellus" turned out to be rather disappointing. But "Neptune" was a good surprise all around. "When we tasted it it was much better than it should have been," the expert taster Bernard Burtschy told the Paris gathering. At once mellower and more complex than its on-land relative, he said.