VOGUE ADRIA / Underwater Wine Cellars

Sommelier Monika Neral takes us below the surface of the sea, through underwater wineries and to the depths that reveal new wine potentials

If you thought you had visited all the most fascinating wine cellars in the world – big, modern, historic, famous – you may not have discovered that there are actually cellars that are not so easy to see and visit, and turn the wines into a miracle.

We are looking at underwater wine cellars that are treated in the same manner as the ones on land: the new vintage is aged, regularly visited and checked to see if everything is going according to plan, and even the bottles that are ready for the market are harvested. If we look at it a little more practically, the bottles of wine are placed in cages specifically intended for aging, and then they are submerged to various depths and for various periods of time, waiting for the wine to add its touch. Why is this done? The sea has always been an element that has been considered healing, fascinating and mysterious from a human perspective. So in this case it was realized that wine, as a living organism that constantly changes in the bottle, likes this magical influence because the factors for aging are just ideal – there is no light and sound, the temperature is stable, while the swaying of the wine currents harmoniously nurtures it. We are talking about the art of nature that intertwines with the art of man and creates a unique and ingenious experience. It is an invisible world where a lot of effort, passion, knowledge and time have been invested by the few producers who are engaged in winemaking under the sea. Let’s see where the most important ones are on the Croatian coast from north to south!

We start from Kvarner; we are on the Opatija Riviera, more precisely in Ika, where the wine event held since 2015 became a popular oenological experience for local people, but increasingly also for foreign visitors. In August, thanks to the Association of “Ikarski Barkajoli” and the Tourist Board of the City of Opatija together with the city of Opatija, the event takes place. It celebrates the end and at the same time the beginning of the wine aging process. The aging happens att a depth of 20 meters and temperatures of 8-15 °C and lasts 12 months. What makes the process special is the influence of natural phenomenon, specific for the region of Ika, which adorns the wines with a unique balance. From burying 300 bottles in the first year, to today’s 4,000/5,000, this wine cellar has opened its doors to 15 Croatian and foreign wineries that are currently actively participating in this project from wine regions such as Istria, Kvarner, Slavonia, and Slovenia and Austria. Some of the most important names are Rossi, Kabola, Sosich, Prelac, Franković, Meglan, Marcheta, Fruhtar. If you haven’t done it yet, I definitely recommend the first Saturday in August in Ika. Get ready to enjoy a lazy summer afternoon swim while tasting some of the “sea” wines and fish gastronomic delicacies.

Now let’s move south to the island of Pag, where the world’s largest underwater wine cellar is located, based in Ljubč, in the municipality of Ražanac, part of the Zadar County. This is the place where this fantastic story of underwater wineries started. The owner is Marko Dušević, who works closely with sommelier Domagoj Skuliber, on creating the very rapid development of the Coral Wine brand. It all started with the company Adriatic Shell growing mussels and oysters. From 2013, they started dabbling with wines under the sea and, after six years of experimentation, the first Coral Wine bottles hit the market in 2018. Today, their production has jumped to 27,000 bottles per year, and in ten years of existence, more than 10,000 different wines from more than 300 producers have aged. What sets them apart from others is the collaboration with only the world’s best wine brands such as Villa Canestrari from Veneto known for Amarone, Marchese d’Azeglio from Piemonte known for Barolo and Langhe, dr. Hugo Thanisch from Mosel known for its Riesling, Benjamin Laroche from Chablis, Chateau Rousselle from Bordeaux and Alberto Massucco from Champagne, which they distribute to various countries on three continents. They created special cages where the bottles float, reducing sea pressure and the influence of currents, because they realized that wines with a high aging potential behave the same way under the sea, and that’s why Chablis only ages for one year, while Barolo needs five years. Gavi is kept at a depth of 25 meters because it will be picked up fast, while Rioja is at 40 meters. It can be concluded that wine in the sea matures at a faster pace, that is, it becomes more serious, complex and rounded, thus providing a completely different expression of smell and taste. In short, we are talking about a huge desire for innovation in the wine world of art.

We end this trip on one of the most important wine peninsulas in Croatia – Pelješac. In the town of Drače, there is the Edivo winery, which distills its Plavac mali from the Dingač and Postup locations in clay amphorae inside an old sailing ship. Navis Mysterium is the name of the final product, and the idea started with two brothers and their uncle – Iva, Ante and Edi – who in 2013 started experimenting in the area of ​​the Mljet Canal. They immediately faced the problem of seawater leaking through the cork and, after some time, they patented their two layers of wax that are proven to be impermeable. Currently, the underwater cellar, which produces 10,000 bottles and 5,000 amphorae per year, is located in the Maloston Bay at a depth of 14 to 20 meters at a stable temperature between 14 and 16 °C and without the danger of excessive sea currents. After two years of aging, the bottles with oysters, shells and algae are removed from the bottom of the sea, desalinated and ready for the market under the name Navis Mysterium – ship of secrets. Blind tasting of the same vintage of regular and sea bottles showed that their identity is completely different, as if there are two completely different wines in the glass, which proves how powerful the influence of the sea is. Edivo is the only underwater cellar open to licensed divers, and the tour takes about 45 minutes. Can’t wait to see it live!

Looking at the wine map of Croatia, I like to think that our coast is rightly divided into areas where the sea has decided to bless them with the right conditions to house the wine. I have all three locations in my heart – Opatija is my home, my roots are in Ražanac, Pelješac is a great inspiration for me – and I love it when wine and the sea come together – two elements that have always been in my blood, and I believe many others too.

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