GENEVA, SWITZERLAND / AMONG THE VINES – An exciting wine research experiment is underway in the chilly waters of Lake Geneva.
You read that headline right: Switzerland’s most visited tourist attraction, the Chateau de Chillon near Montreux, took 330 bottles of its excellent Chasselas wine, Clos de Chillon, and some sparkling wines and slipped them into Lake Geneva’s chilly waters to sit for what could be years for some of them.
The send-off, or sink-down if you like, is far from a publicity stunt.
The immersion is part of a research project involving the chateau, Badoux winery in Aigle, Intrasub (specialists in underwater research) and Jean-Paul Gaud, specialist in wine closure systems.
The group will work with the Changins Swiss Federal Research Station near Nyon to test the chemical and physical properties of the wines over the years.
The bottles were lowered into the lake in front of the underwater cliff that lies at the foot of the chateau. They are held in a fully perforated galvanized steel cage.
Possibly first fresh-water wine aging test
The point of the exercise is to test the development of wines matured in a body of fresh water. Why, you might ask? For the experts, the answer is easy: wine is usually matured in air, but there is no particular reason besides habit for this – why not mature it in another environment? Experiments have been carried out in a number of countries in the past five years, Wine Spectator reported in 2012.
Water can offer a surprisingly good home for wine storage
Wine found in shipwrecks – saltwater – have surprised the experts with their quality, sometimes after long years underwater.
As a result, and because storing wine on land can be costly, tests have been carried out on wines aged in salt water – but never in fresh water, the chateau association’s president, Jean Pierre Pastori, told me. The group is, to their knowledge, the first to carry out a relatively large-scale scientific experiment.
The lake remains a constant 10C at -23 metres, total darkness is the norm, humidity is high and the level of oxygen is very low: conditions that could provide for the ideal evolution of wines.
Tasting sessions carried out a regular intervals will compare the underwater wines to those stored in “normal” air-surrounded conditions, and the wines will be tested chemically and physically for changes.
Improved but still cork closures
A first test was attempted three years ago, but it failed because of corking problems. In seawater experiments elsewhere a variety of closures have been tried.
This time “Champagne” style corks and closings were used on half of the bottles of Clos de Chillon still whites, Chasselas. The team concluded that this system would be the best for the pressure subjected to wines at -23 metres.
Regular corks were used for the other wines that are part of the experiment: Badoux Brut, a sparkling wine, and Badoux “Lettres de noblesse”, a Pinot Noir from Yvorne.
The corks nevertheless underwent some modifications. The cork is 49mm long instead of 40 with the largest diameter 26mm instead of 24mm. Extra paraffin layers were added to ensure these will adhere well to the neck of the bottles and the neck was covered in wax.
A counter-pressure was created inside the bottles to make up for the higher pressure produced by immersing the bottles.
The group is optimistic about the results, but pragmatic. “If we see that aging is accelerated, for example, or the inverse, it could be interesting,” says Pastori. “Maybe in the future there will be some interest in storing wine in non-salt water rather than in air.”