The project saw the estate’s 2014 Blanc de Blancs submerged 60m under the sea for 12 months off the coast of Brest in Brittany, northwest France. Its spell in the water took place while it was still on the lees, before being disgorged in 2021.
This sets the English project apart from many similar projects conducted by Champagne houses, where disgorging prior to submergence is mandatory by production law.
Sixty meters under the sea
Initially inspired by bottles found in decades-old shipwrecks, winemakers from around the globe are now trailing the idea of underwater cellars.
Though still a niche trend, advocates for sea ageing already include familiar names such as Champagne houses Veuve Clicquot and Leclerc Briant, Larrivet Haut-Brion in Bordeaux and Gaia Winery in Greece.
Some argue that the underwater environment enhances greater intensity of colour, more accentuated primary fruit and a smoother texture.
This time, the English producer partnered with marine project specialist Amphoris and submerged his vintage Blanc de Blancs at a ‘safe and secure location’ off the northwest French coast ‘away from fishing and military activity’.
The complete darkness and constant temperature on the chosen seabed replicate those found in traditional cellars.
However, it is the ‘constant and gentle movement of the sea’, combined with similar pressure outside and inside the bottle that contribute to the wine’s subtle evolution away from the usual cellar ageing trajectory, said Corinne Seely, wine director of Exton Park.
Choosing the wine for the mission
‘I was at a tasting in Paris where we were selling our first Pinot Meunier Rosé in a shop, Soif d’Ailleurs in the 3rd arrondissement. I tasted a wine that had been aged under the sea by Amphoris and I met the founders (Pierre Recoules and Denis Drouin) – two off-shore engineers passionate about showcasing what the sea has to offer for the drinks industry,’ said Seely.
This encounter inspired the French-born, Bordeaux-trained winemaker to venture into the idea of sea ageing.
‘Our Blanc de Blancs vintage embodies the pure expression of our chalky terroir and the same chalk starts its journey in the sea,’ Seely added, explaining why the Blanc de Blancs 2014 was chosen for the initial underwater expedition.
The producer, known for its core Reserve Blend (RB) range, only releases vintage sparkling wines from exceptional years, and this was one of them.
The Chardonnay grapes for the Blanc de Blancs were sourced from the first 20 rows of the estate’s now 24ha single-vineyard site, initially planted in 2003 on the South Downs.
‘I was curious to know what effect the combination of being 60m below water, the darkness, the pressure, the movement and the location where the [English] Channel meets the Atlantic, could bring to our undisgorged wine and what it can change in the wine,’ said Seely.
The results were satisfactory for the winemaker: ‘Two siblings (cellar-aged and sea-aged) that grew up completely differently. It is like the time under sea brings out the purity of the chalky character of the terroir even more.’
More to come
The 2014 Blanc de Blancs is merely the beginning of Exton Park’s underwater adventure, as hinted by the winemaker.
‘Currently, we submerged more bottles a month ago. A very special wine, never made before for a special experiment. I also added some of our disgorged and undisgorged RB32 Brut to the experiment to understand more about sea ageing wines in their different stages.’
Exclusive reviews: 60 above vs 60 below
’60 Above’ 2014 Blanc de Blancs (cellar-aged)
Aged for six years on the lees, the wine displays a rich bouquet of creamy egg tart, ripe yellow fruits, golden apple peel and lemon curd. Compared to the sea-aged edition, the acidity appears to be brighter and more accentuated on the palate. Textured and elegant with tasty spices. Toast, yuzu zest and a hidden touch of caramel. More salinity and crushed almond towards the profound finish.
’60 Below’ 2014 Blanc de Blancs (sea-aged)
The sea-aged edition showcases a fresh nose of sour orange, yellow apple and dried mango, plus a pinch of ginger spices. On the palate, it appears to have a rounder, more oily texture compared to the cellar-aged peer. Wheat cracker richness on the palate, with saline yuzu zest and lemon sorbet to refresh, followed by a refined, salivating finish.
150 sets of the sea-aged 2014 Blanc de Blancs (’60 Below’), in their original seashells-covered bottles, will be released in a gift pack that also includes the cellar-aged edition of this wine (’60 Above’). This ‘Prestige Pack’ will go on sale on 18 October from the producer’s own website and off-trade exclusively in Fortnum & Mason with an RRP of £225.