By Peg Moore

When the Lords Proprietors settled the Carolinas in the 17th century, they envisioned plantations producing wine. It was a normal expectation, given the wild grapes that flourish here. However, experiments with both local grapes and imported vines failed, though the tale of pre-Revolutionary winemaking at New Bordeaux on the Savannah River shows how close they came.

Now, four centuries later, Mira Winery is putting Charleston on the global wine map in a unique way. The media is paying attention.

“American winemaker challenges conventional methods with ‘Aquaoir’ — the first United States wine aged under the sea” reported the daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom. CBS This Morning raved that “The new technique that could revolutionize the wine industry” in reporting on Mira Winery. The The Sun Herald of Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi, declared Aquaoir a “2015 drinking trend.”

Wine experiments in Charleston’s harbor

For several years, cases of bottled Napa Valley wine have been lowered into the harbor at Charleston. The experiment has been dubbed “aquaoir.” Mira coined the term — a play on “terroir” that refers to environmental conditions on land.

The owners of Mira were inspired by the recent discovery of ancient champagne rescued from a sunken ship in the Baltic Sea. The champagne is believed to date from the 1780s and was unique and delicious. Mira Winery, whose home office is now in Charleston, decided to try it in America. Europeans have been submerging barreled wine in water, but no one had experimented with bottled wine.

“The wine tastes as though it is two years older instead of only three months older,” reported renowned winemaker Gustavo Gonzalez and his partner Jim “Bear” Dyke, who founded Mira Winery in 2009.

Mira has conducted a number tastings of their aquaoir wine, with similar reactions. A taster from San Francisco reports there was a clear difference — “the aquaoir wine was good and tasted much older than it was.”

Mira does not envision producing aquaoir wine on a large scale. “We are just testing to see how it might impact the way people think about aging wine. Maybe we can find a way to age wine faster on shore,” explains Gustavo.

Charleston’s acclaimed winemaker

Gustavo began his wine career in 1995, as a tester of fermentation for Mondavi, where he became the chief red wine maker. He has become a celebrity in the wine world, having made wine in five countries and creating a Tuscan red that was rated as a 100-point wine by critics.

This is as good as it gets, an honor that means a lot to Gustavo — “not because of the points, but we worked so hard. It was heartwarming to learn three years later that others like it so much.” Some places still have a few bottles and Gustavo is thrilled when they bring it out for him.

He’s also proud of the success the wintery is having with buyers. “It almost seemed fateful to connect with Bear. You know you have things working in your head and you don’t know exactly what. I’ve always been ready for opportunities.”

It’s an unlikely friendship and partnership. Jim began as a parking lot attendant. His entrepreneurial talents have involved his involvement in political campaigns and working with companies delivering complex messages to targeted audiences. Dyke moved to Charleston in 2005.

For the future, he and Gustavo want to share what they do with wine with more people. “We want to stay small,” says Gustavo, “not get so big that others do it under the Mira name. We’d like to take the snob factor out of wine so people are less intimidated.”  

Gustavo smiles a lot. You know he means it when he says, “I love what I do. I love it when the public tastes my wine and it makes them happy.”  

Federal bureaucrats attack aquaoir

Charleston’s seashore is renowned for beaches and delicious seafood. Therefore it was surprising to hear from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau that sealed bottled aquaoir wines may be deemed “adulterated” because of uncontrolled conditions in Charleston harbor.

Mira’s owners are concerned that the TTB has never asked to check the wine itself or any of their chemical analysis and that the agency is trying to discourage experimentation with zero information.

Charleston’s wine sensibility

From its earliest days, Charleston differed from other English settlements in cherishing good wine and food.

Puritan influences inhibited cooking in New England. Not so in Charleston — early settlers included businessmen from Barbados who were seeking wealth and pleasure. Charleston had the largest French population of any colony and they made important contributions to the excellence of our historic cuisine, which flourished until the poverty following the War Between the States. Processed food also diminished the excellence of Charleston’s cuisine.

The delicious renaissance of historic ingredients, our famous New Southern cuisine and many talented chefs have made Charleston a mecca for foodies.

It is certainly appropriate for the historic district to include a Napa Valley winery. Although the grapes may be grown in California, the winery’s business office is on King Street. Mira’s education center is on Queen Street.

“It’s good to have Mira going full circle, first wine here, then in California and now back here,” says Jim. “This is such an incredible city, great atmosphere; very exciting to bring wine back,” says Gustavo.       

 

Napa Valley wine on Queen Street

Mira Winery’s Napa Valley Education Center and Tasting room is located at 68 ½ Queen St. — as you walk east, you will see the mural by David Boatwright, an adaptation of Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party.”

Memberships are based on how many bottles you buy. Mira wines are mostly organically grown. The Education Center will offer regular tastings, speakers and educational wine experiences. It is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Since space is limited, events are limited to the first 12 Wine Club members to sign up. For more information, call (843) 952-7013.

Bon appétit! 

Peg Moore may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

The Square Onion in I'On

Mt. Pleasant Library on Mathis Ferry Rd.