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From the Vineyard to the Seabed

Ocean Fathoms is aging wine beneath Santa Barbara’s rolling waves

Words by GABE SAGLIE
Photography by MICHAEL HABER

 

Some underwater treasure comes in 750 mL bottles.

Ocean Fathoms has identified a unique, if not revolutionary, way to age wine: under the sea, just off the California coast.

This ocean venture worthy of Jacques Cousteau is the brainchild of Emanuele Azzaretto, an avid diver with a résumé that includes engineering projects for the navy in his native Italy and big-game sanctuary missions in Kenya. He moved to Santa Barbara 13 years ago, not long before news began to spread around the globe that cargo from a schooner that had sunk in the Baltic Sea 170 years earlier had been reeled to the surface. Dozens of bottles of bubbly discovered onboard had lost their fizz, but the wines remained remarkably drinkable. Inspired, “I decided to do it myself,” Azzaretto says.

 

The Santa Barbara Channel is teeming with sea life, much of which ends up adorning the wine bottles that Ocean Fathoms ages underwater.

 

He has two partners in Ocean Fathoms: Todd Hahn, a former sports and entertainment talent agent, and Jordane Andrieu, a Frenchman who runs the lucrative Héritage Fine Wines in Beverly Hills. The trio soon discovered that the waters off Santa Barbara may be among the very few spots on the planet where the underwater aging of wine works especially well. Optimum temperatures are steady year-round (54 or 55 degrees) and the rush of plankton-rich water through the Santa Barbara Channel creates perpetual pulsation — just enough movement to keep the bottles continually in motion, which reduces sedimentation.

 

“We’re working with the ocean instead of against it”

Emanuele Azzaretto

 

Wine bottles are reeled back up after a year of underwater aging.

 

The ultimate magic sauce, though, may be Ocean Fathom’s patented cages, which use zinc and copper to create saltwater galvanic batteries when lowered beneath the ocean’s surface. They shoot charged ionic currents through the wine, which breaks down tannins, and the absence of oxygen keeps the wines vibrant and fresh. An aging process that can take years appears to be achieved in months.

The team’s underwater cellar, identified after dozens of dives, is a secret spot about 1.2 miles off the coast of Montecito, at a depth of 70 feet. No sunlight, no sounds but water. A plethora of sea life, though, which turns each bottle into its own work of art. “When we bring them up, we see barnacles, shells and coral on them, even sea worms and octopi,” says Hahn. “Every bottle is unique to itself.”

“We’re working with the ocean,” adds Azzaretto, “instead of against it.”

 

The secret underwater “cellar” is located 1.2 miles off the Montecito coast. 

 

Ocean Fathoms is planning about a half dozen 10-cage drops through the year — around 50 percent their own proprietary blends, like a Santa Barbara Super Tuscan, and around 50 percent from labels from around the world, such as Taittinger, that are clamoring to collaborate. Some of these drops will include invited consumers, creating open-ocean gastronomic experiences complete with comparative tastings. And there’s a documentary in the works, too, which should hit the film-festival circuit next year and begin streaming in the fall of 2022.

Commercial availability of Ocean Fathoms wines hinges on FDA approval. With that green light, the focus will be direct-to-consumer sales, premium resorts and restaurants, auctions and an exclusive members club. The team is aiming to submerge more than 50,000 bottles over the next five years.

 

An avid diver, Emanuele Azzaretto — who is part of the trio behind Ocean Fathoms — identified the perfect underwater location for aging wines after more than 20 test dives off the Santa Barbara coast.

 

 

Feature image: Ocean Fathoms is experimenting with aging wine by dropping cages filled with bottles some 70 feet beneath the surface.

 

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of C Magazine.

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