bisson abissi Neptune, cellarmaster

Those zany Italians are doing it again. Piero Lugano, a sun-tanned artist-turned-wine-merchant-turned-wine-maker has decided to age his sparkling wine, made from local indigenous varieties grown in vineyards overlooking the Golfo Paradiso on the Mediterranean, under the sea! He had a problem when he began producing the wine about 10 years ago: there was simply no space in his already cramped shop and winery to carry out the aging required to make a bottle-fermented sparkling wine in the classic method of Champagne. He then had the brilliant or crazy idea of aging the wine under the sea! To most of us, the idea of making wine underwater might seem nuts.

But Mr. Lugano makes an interesting argument: “It’s better than even the best underground cellar, especially for sparkling wine. The temperature is perfect, there’s no light, the water prevents even the slightest bit of air from getting in, and the constant counter-pressure keeps the bubbles bubbly. Moreover, the underwater currents act like a crib, gently rocking the bottles and keeping the lees moving through the wine.”

There was another problem however, the area where he wanted to age the wines was a national marine preserve, the Area Marina Protetta di Portofino. So the odds would seem overwhelmingly against such a project. But it turns out the crazys work in the Government in Italy and not only was it possible, the ministry thought it was a very cool idea. The scientists did research to ensure no environmental impact and determine the ideal site to place the wine.

On May 20, 2009, 6,500 bottles of wine from the 2008 vintage of Bianchetta and Vermentino grapes, made without adding sugar, in the traditional method known as pas dosè, were  lowered about 200 feet below the sea.  When they went to retrieve the wine 13 months later, they found the bottles intact but transformed. Far from having a negative impact on the underwater environment, it was the sea that had had an impact on the bottles. The wine christened Abissi, meaning depths in Italian.

Orignially reported in the NY Times 23 August 2011