Chardonnay-Under-the-Sea goes a little too far, even in wine country


It’s the story of a shipwreck, an ocean, centuries-old champagne bottles, a registered US patent, Tommy Lee of Mötley Crüe and the history of Californian wine.

It starts with a diver, surfer, winemaker and Frenchman who sunk wine storage cages off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif., In an effort to create the world’s first reserved underwater wine cellar and club. to members. Only they did so without a state permit, near the site of a huge oil spill five decades ago. This angered the California Coastal Commission, which accused the company of willfully breaking the law and ordered the cages removed.

Then, after gaining more time to comply by citing the pandemic, the company hosted an expensive bottle collection party and taped it for social media.

“I think it takes a certain pride to do what you want, how you want, where you want,” said Jennifer Savage, California policy manager for Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group. “There are reasons why people can’t just go out and throw whatever they want to the bottom of the ocean.”

The committee is expected to vote next month on a request to approve the cages after the fact and allow more gear to be sunk. Its staff recommended the commission Deny the application, claiming that it does not meet the key use criteria for approval under the Coastline Law, a landmark state law passed in 1976 to protect coastal resources, promote public access, and balance conservation with development.

Ocean Fathoms co-founder Emanuele Azzaretto, the diver, said his plan promotes wine, the blue economy, does not harm the environment and ripens wine faster than typical storage.

“Santa Barbara is the ocean and the wine,” said Azzaretto, who has spent years in East Africa developing marine and hunting parks. “Well, we just married the two things and we’re doing it in a really clean way.”

Engulfed champagne

In 2010, explorers found a wreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Divers managed to recover 168 bottles of champagne dating from 1840-1841. the sparkling good taste, sparking an infant industry.

Spain and Italy now have a handful of underwater storage facilities. An underwater vineyard in Croatia has wine stored in clay jugs, although attempts to replicate those efforts in Chesapeake Bay and off the coast of North Carolina have failed. A Submarine Wine Congress convened in 2019, and another session is scheduled for Bilboa, Spain, in 2022. Congress did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2015, Azzaretto said he had developed a special cage with recycled metals that acts like a battery, charging the structure using waves and stirring the wine while keeping the bottles in dark and dark conditions. fresh necessary for storage and preservation. It started experimenting in 2016, first with 12 bottles, then 50. One cage was discontinued in 2019 and two in 2020, according to the state. He won patent approval in 2020.

For Azzaretto, his business is like crab fishing – “You drop a cage, you wind it up” – and aquaculture fish farming – “I have young wine. I make it more wine. old.”

Attempts to get permits for the deployment got lost in a maze of jurisdictions and Covid-19 delays, Azzaretto said. “I didn’t know I was doing something wrong. I went to all the port offices. I told everyone what I was doing.

Ocean Fathoms says on his website that the business is an “authorized wine cellar”, which commission staff say is not true. Last week, Azzaretto called the language of the website a bit ambiguous. “I think we should correct this,” he said.

Ocean Fathoms did not apply for a permit until after the cages were removed, and the commission learned of the cages from the Army Corps of Engineers, said Kate Huckelbridge, deputy director of the coastal commission.

“Wine storage does not meet any of those seven defined uses” in the Coastline Act, Huckelbridge said.

“It takes up habitat and space when there are existing creatures there,” she said. “It crushes everything below.”

Time permits and a party

The state sent a notice of violation at Ocean Fathoms on February 2 and ordered the cages removed before Valentine’s Day.

“It appears that over the past 22 months you have placed cages of wine bottles in offshore waters for the purpose of aging them and then removing and replacing the cages,” the letter said. He noted that the project also lacked approvals from the Army Corps, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the California State Lands Commission and the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Ocean Fathoms requested an extension, citing Covid-19 and planning issues. The state agreed and extended the withdrawal deadline until March 15. While the commission investigated the violation, Ocean Fathoms submitted a formal request for a permit to abandon past and future cages.

With state expansion in hand, the company and a Beverly Hills wine store hosted a luxury boat tour of the site on March 13. They ate and drank, watched the cages go up, and chose a bottle lifted from the ocean ($ 300 value) for theirs. Tickets online were priced at $ 1,000.

Further igniting its opponents, the company promoted the fact that each bottle is adorned with the sea attached to the glass for 12 months.

“It’s dead marine life that adorns these bottles,” said Susan Jordan, executive director of the Santa Barbara-based California Coastal Protection Network.

Azzaretto calls this concern exaggerated. “Barnacles are considered a pest,” he said. “I’m the only one who values ​​barnacles.”

Supporters speak out

Ocean Fathoms has its fans. The Santa Ynez Chumash Indian Band and Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams urged the commission to letters approve the permit.

“This project, besides the unique style of wine making, is innovative,” Williams wrote June 23. “We live in a county that is full of wineries, but we haven’t seen anything like it. Allowing this venture would strengthen the reputation of our county, coast and state as a premier wine-growing site in the world.

Ocean Fathoms lists seven wineries or vineyards as “Collaborative Partners”.

Tyler Thomas, president and winemaker of Dierberg Vineyards and Star Lane, said the two family-owned wineries donated around 28 cases each of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon to the company. They saw it as an inexpensive way to experience wine making and hope to work with Ocean Fathoms in the future, he said.

Testing side by side with the underwater bottles and the ones that stayed on land, Thomas noticed a difference that improved the taste. “The Cabernet definitely felt more mature, but not in a bad way that it felt like it was almost too old,” he said.

As for concerns about the environment? “I think if we sincerely thought it was going to harm the ocean and ocean life, we wouldn’t have done it,” he said. “We don’t throw garbage in the ocean. We just put bottles of wine.

Another listed collaboration partner, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, tells a different story.

“We checked with them and made some samples, but we haven’t made any progress in sending our wines,” Rick Toyota, vice president of The Family Coppola, said in an email, refusing to comment further.

“From Guam to Alaska”

Ocean Fathoms is an interesting marketing concept, and the underwater aspect could help niche wineries without storage, said Stephan Sommer, director of the Fresno State Viticulture and Wine Research Center. But the aging claims are fanciful. Wine needs oxygen to age and waves don’t have the energy to “ionize” wine, he said.

“It’s a nice tool, but it doesn’t do everything for the wine they claim,” said Sommer, who has worked in the industry for over 20 years. “It sounds more like witchcraft than real science.”

Azzaretto hopes to make the business a viable wine club, where members are given selections every three months and the bottles are changed every year. Bottle prices will range from $ 350 to $ 500.

Individual memberships have not been sold, but co-founder Todd Hahn said he is partnering with established wine clubs, although no wine has been delivered. “You have to be invited,” he said. “It’s very small. It’s very exclusive.

Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee tasted a bottle but is not a partner, Azzaretto said.

Meanwhile, the commission’s council is due to hear the request on August 8. He does not have to follow the recommendation of the staff of Deny The application. And even though it is a ‘no’, Azzaretto said that is not the end of the story.

“I have a US patent,” he said. “The Coast Commission is only in California. I can do it from Guam to Alaska.


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