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Wine submerged in sea, aged by waves in project to revitalize east Japan region

Undersea aged wine with barnacles is seen in this photo provided by Hiroshi Deguchi. (Photo courtesy of Hiroshi Deguchi)

YOKOSUKA, Kanagawa -- An initiative to age bottles of wine on the ocean floor, aided by the vibrations of the waves, is underway in a bay in east Japan.

    About 400 bottles of wine entrusted by hotels and other organizations were lowered into the calm sea by local fishermen in Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture. After six months, the wine will be pulled out as "undersea aged wine."

    Hiroshi Deguchi, 58, captain of a leisure fishing boat and a board member of the Koajiro tourism promotion and revitalization council, skillfully sank a case filled with bottles of wine at the point he had decided on ahead of time in Koajiro Bay on Dec. 26, 2020. The water is more than 10 meters deep with a sandy bottom that allows the tide to flow easily, and the water temperature is stable at 12 to 14 degrees Celsius even in winter. Moreover, the ultraviolet rays that are said to cause deterioration of wine do not reach the bottles.

    "It's best to sink young wine, because when I pull it out, I'll know for sure that it has become delicious," Deguchi said.

    The cases of wine are covered with wire netting to protect the bottles, and a buoy tied with a rope is attached. After the bottles are put in the water, the buoys are used as a landmark for regular patrols. The tops of the bottles are coated with beeswax taken from beehives to prevent seawater from entering through the gaps in the cork stoppers. When the bottles are pulled up six months later, they are said to be covered with barnacles.

    Hiroshi Deguchi submerges a case filled with bottled wine in Koajiro Bay in Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Dec. 26, 2020. (Mainichi/Nobumichi Iwasaki)

    It is said that the undersea aged wine project started with an anecdote about wine that was retrieved from a sunken ship. The slight vibration of the waves gives the wine a deep and mellow taste, and the bottles covered with barnacles, which indicate that the wine was kept on the seabed for a long time, are gaining popularity.

    In Japan, the Izu region of Shizuoka Prefecture and other regions have undertaken similar initiatives. The Miura council started its project about two years ago as a measure to revitalize the region. A total of 150 bottles were submerged in November 2018, but they were washed away by turbulent waters and the project ended in failure. In December 2019, officials tried again with about 200 bottles. Six months later, they held a tasting party with the salvaged wine, which was well received.

    Most of the submerged wine is consigned by the case by hotels and inns, with the consignors paying Deguchi a management fee. The Keikyu group, representing Keikyu Corp. and other firms, entrusted 72 bottles.

    The council also sank 48 bottles of "Verney Wine," which was marketed by a shopping street in Oppama, Yokosuka. After the bottles are retrieved, the wine will be sold under the product name "Kokuri."

    Due in part to global warming, the fish catches in Miura have continued to decline. Shunichi Kimura, director of the Miura fishermen's association, says, "Compared to five or six years ago, the income of local fishermen has probably dropped by about half.

    Deguchi said with high hopes, "We formed the council to revitalize the declining local community, and we thought about what we could do, and that's how we arrived at the idea of undersea aged wine. If the business gets off the ground and more fishermen get involved, it will increase our income. It will also benefit local disabled people who are responsible for the beeswax work on the bottles."

    (Japanese original by Nobumichi Iwasaki, Yokosuka Local Bureau)

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