Slow Wine 2024
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Etna in the abyss: between sustainability and constant conditions, volcano wines age in the sea

Startup Orygini, the Etna Wine Consortium and the University of Catania study the differences between cellar and seabed aging

Constant light, constant temperature, constant pressure, and constant currents. All at zero cost, with not inconsiderable savings on a winery's energy costs. Or at least that is what it sounds like. The reality is much more complex than that and very difficult therefore to measure and quantify, but in Catania, they are trying to start with the start-up Orygini - founded by Luca Catania, Giuseppe Leone and Riccardo Peligra - who have involved Consorzio di Tutela Vini Etna and its producers willing to experiment with their own bottles, and the Faculty of Food Science and Technology of the University of Catania, to parameterize and measure any changes that occur in the aging in the cellar or on the seabed, in the Marine Protected Area of the Island of the Cyclops off the coast of Aci Trezza, which has allowed the sinking of wine cases as of July 12, 2022.
It all started with the news of the 168 bottles of Champagne found in the Baltic Sea more than 10 years ago, which had been underwater for 200 years and exhumed in perfect tasting conditions. The founders of the start-up - diving enthusiasts - have been toying for a long time with the idea of replicating the conditions in the form of an experiment, to figure out what conditions allow the longevity of the submerged wine to be so prolonged. An experiment certainly not unique in Italy, but one that strongly wanted the support of the local community: scientific, productive and environmental. “The volcano Etna originated from the Cyclops Islands, so the idea was to bring fire, or rather, what now grows from that fertile fire, back to the sea. Hence the name of the start-up: Orygini”. The companies participating to date are two, Passopisciaro and Benanti, which have agreed to place on the seabed, at a depth of about 44 meters, 1,000 bottles for each label involved: Passobianco and Passorosso 2019 for Passopisciaro from the Franchetti family, and Etna Rosso 2020 from Benanti, among the oldest wineries in the Etnean territory.
The tasting organized at “Vinitaly 2023”, led by journalist Aldo Fiordelli in the presence of the founders of Orygini, Francesco Cambria and Maurizio Lunetta, president and director of the Consorzio di Tutela Vini Etna, and the director of the Protected Marine Area of the Isola dei Ciclopi Riccardo Strada, involved both the 3 labels that were sunken for 6 months and their twins that are normally aged in the cellar for as many months, in order to perceive their organoleptic differences. The wines that rested on the bottom actually showed more tension and a more pronounced and well-balanced sort of youthfulness with regard to Passopisciaro’s whites, while more amalgamated tannins and a calmer sip stood out with regard to the reds, both Passopisciaro’s and Benanti’s.
Six months is clearly just the beginning of a project that wants to endure and that will raise new questions, perhaps involving other wineries or other wines. The idea is to continue aging at sea until it reaches at least 12 months, in order to also continue collecting data concerning light, temperature, currents and pressures (which affect the wine in two ways: through vibrations, which cause a kind of continuous remuage; through sea pressure, which changes the shape of the glass bottle and thus affects the pressure the liquid inside it experiences). But plans are also being made to increase the sinking depth, (reaching 70 meters deep with the help of the Navy) and to precisely calculate the amount of emitted carbon dioxide saved, when there is no need for a cellar to be air-conditioned to refine wine at stable temperature, humidity and light.
Whether it is a practically viable route for a winery's entire wine production is certainly debatable, but it might become interesting for some new producers who do not have a winery and produce a few bottles of wine. Research for its own sake driven by passion and curiosity, on the other hand, is commendable, as well as rare, and has already led to the patenting of special corks covered with a wax that allows them to resist sea pressure. Research that, moreover, could find future funding from the sale of sunken bottles: valuable unicums already equipped with microchips, which tell their story, and embellished with hand-chiseled jewelry by Fratelli Napoli artisans.

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