When I heard that Mira Winery had submerged four cases of its 2009 cabernet sauvignon in Charleston Harbor earlier this year, my skeptical journalists heart tightened as the phrase publicity stunt sprang from my lips.
And yet, I was curious.
You may have seen reports of the Napa Valley winerys underwater aging experiment. It put the wine on the ocean floor from February through May in an attempt, it said, to re-create the conditions of wine lost in shipwrecks and preserved for a time beneath the sea. Factors such as temperature, pressure and light differ and are thought to create a unique flavor.
According to a press release issued earlier this month, the four cases of the wine sold in less than a day. The wine maker packaged each ocean-aged bottle with a bottle of the same wine, aged on solid ground, and sold the two-packs for $500 a pop. The press release trumpeted the fact that the wine experiment won an award for best media relations campaign of the year and yielded 640 media placements. (Count this as No. 641.)
Obviously, the winery was just as interested in the publicity generated by this experiment as it was in the research possibilities. I decided I was willing to play along, and my cynicism gave way to my curiosity. What does it taste like? Who would know? Who does this story appeal to? Who would be interested enough to pay to find out?
Reader Lee J. Pryor came to mind. In response to my October column on Chinese wine Great Wall being the best-selling in the world, Pryor emailed to tell me about his futile attempts to bring a couple of bottles of similar Chinese wine home to his fellow oenophiles. He sampled some while there on business. The taste was nothing to write home about.
I wanted to bring it back just to show the guys, so they could see what it was like, Pryor said.
No dice. A Chinese friend had recommended he carry it in his carry-on. Security confiscated it before his flight.
In China, I wasnt about to argue about anything, he said.
Anyone enthusiastic enough to try to spirit mediocre wine out of China for the novelty of it would surely have heard about Miras experiment, I thought. Turns out I was wrong. But after I told Pryor about it, he was on the phone with the winery.
Pryor and his friends in the North Raleigh neighborhood of Wildwood Green get together as a wine club. They sip and volunteer their labor and expertise to the Frankie Lemmon School at its annual Triangle Wine Experience extravaganza. Last year the event raised more than $1 million for the school, which serves children with disabilities. The three-day event includes wine dinners, tastings and a gala and auction. Big-name winemakers from across the country attend. The schedule for this years event, which runs Feb. 6-8, is up now at trianglewineexperience.org.
Pryor and his friends help pick the wines for the tastings, and Pryor contributes wine for the auction.
I always make it a point to contribute something unusual, he says.
At Pryors request, and since it was for charity, the Mira Winery managed to find a bottle of the ocean-aged cabernet sauvignon. Pryor paid $500 for the two-bottle set, which he plans to donate as an auction item.
Its a little pricey, but its for the kids, he said.
I hope that whoever buys the set in February will open it and taste it in the near future rather than let it sit in a rack. Id love to hear how earth-aged compares to ocean-aged. But just knowing that this PR stunt by a California winery circuitously led Pryor to his act of generosity takes the sting out of being media placement No. 641for me.
Amber Nimocks is a former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at amberwrites.com.