Shipwreck Shiraz 2009
A seemingly impossible dream for Dave Hidden of Hidden Valley was to mature a barrel of wine under the sea. The idea came to him when visiting the Cape Aghullas lighthouse close to where he had his other property at the time, Lands End vineyards. “Looking around me I thought: ‘Why grow grapes down here and take them back to our cellars in Stellenbosch? Why not make the wine but mature it right here under the sea?” The idea motivated him further: “As just about everybody knows, Cape Agulhas is not only the southernmost tip of Africa it is also the spot where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet,” says Hidden. “I decided to make the sea an integral part of the wine-making process in a way that had never been attempted before. If you go to places such as Islay off the west coast of Scotland, whisky-makers leave their maturation barrels on the quayside. The waves crash over them and infuse them with the flavours of the sea. No-one, however, has matured wine whilst still in barrels below the waves. Dave went to say “Superior red wines need to be oak-matured at consistent temperatures and humidity. Underwater at Cape Agulhas is an ideal, natural environment: the temperature is consistently around 13ºC and the humidity is constant!”
It wasn’t an easy task as it involved a team of marine engineers, a professional diver, a specially made barge to transport the 2.5 ton concrete cube (made to withstand high pressures and vigorous wave action) which housed the barrel to its resting place below the ocean as well as all the necessary permits from the local authorities!
The wine selected was the 2009 Shiraz grown at Lands End and made by Louis Nel who was then responsible for the wine making at both of Dave Hidden’s properties. Several barrels of the wine were made and besides the one singled out for the sea adventure the rest were kept at the barrel maturation cellar at Hidden Valley. The barrel for the sea was tightly sealed to prevent the wine from being contaminated by the salt water, and placed in the concrete “coffin” which had openings to allow in the elements at the bottom of the ocean! “The swell at Agulhas can exceed eight metres and the currents are easily powerful enough to shift submerged structures, even 12.5 metres below the surface,” says Hidden. “In addition, we chose a rocky reef to ensure the heavy container did not sink into the soft sand of the sea bottom.”
The barrel spent 15 months maturing under the ocean and on the 9th March 2012 it was brought back to land and happily found to be in good condition despite being covered with limpets, sea urchins and even an oyster! The winemaking team, now headed by Emma Moffat, opened the barrel to find the wine in excellent condition! “To our immense relief and joy, the wine had survived its ordeal wonderfully. It was recently put into specially imported bottles and stored in the bottle-maturation cellar,” says Hidden.
Last week I was privileged to try both the Shipwreck Shiraz 2009 and the Lands End Shiraz 2009 side by side and although the wines came from the same vineyard, there was a noticeable difference between the two! The Shipwreck which had been under the sea was inky black with powerful aromas of black cherry and liquorice, following onto a full bodied silky rich palate with intense flavours of savoury cassis which remained long after the first sip! The land matured version offered a velvety bright colour with fresh clean aromas of dark fruits with subtle peppery spice. The palate was somewhat reserved yet was full bodied with savoury ripe plum flavours and a velvety soft texture on the finish. Both wines will enjoy further bottle maturation.
Only 290 bottles were made of the Shipwreck Shiraz 2009 and each bottle is presented in individual wooden casks. Certainly a rare wine for any collector with the first release of 75 bottles sold out almost immediately. The second release is due to take place later this month and will be available from Hidden Valley and specialist wine merchants at R900.00 each.
Would Dave do this exercise again? His answer was a definite yes but recent laws introduced in South Africa forbid it from happening!