By: Jim Dyke Jr.

On May 27, our Napa Valley winery will pull eight cases of Cabernet Sauvignon out of Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. We placed them there six months ago, protected from the elements, following similar experiments in the past two years. The cold water and the tides seem to expedite the aging process, and we believe that our ocean-aged fine wine—which we’ve trademarked as Aquaoir—could revolutionize how vintners around the world think about winemaking. The only obstacle: the federal government.

For more than a year, our winery has been targeted by the Treasury Department, specifically, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The agency believes our product is unfit for human consumption, despite an utter lack of evidence, and it has threatened to revoke our winemaking license. Washington doesn’t recognize this wine for what it is: the product of entrepreneurship and experimentation.

As a small business in a highly competitive industry, we out of necessity want to stand out through innovation. The aging process was the logical place to start. The traditional technique, developed in France hundreds of years ago and hardly changed, is to age wine at a cool 55 degrees Fahrenheit, often for years or decades. Such factors as light and pressure are also important.

Aware of the renown that has historically been attached to wine pulled up from shipwrecks after years on the ocean floor, we decided to see if intentionally submerging wine bottles for months at a time could speed the aging process and enhance flavor along the way. Our search for an ideal location eventually took us to Charleston Harbor. Sixty feet under the waves, there exists a promising blend of temperature, pressure and darkness, with the additional variable of constant motion.

In February 2013, we submerged four steel mesh cages, each containing a case with 12 bottles of our winery’s 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. To protect the wine, the top of each bottle was coated with high-grade wax sealant. The bottles were left underwater for three months.

After retrieving the wine, we blind-tasted it with a sommelier, comparing it with the original land-aged vintage. It became immediately clear that the ocean had somehow sped the aging process. Intrigued, we took the wine to several experts and chemists, who confirmed that the experiment had created a vintage that, for its age, had uncharacteristically round tannins—the sign of a mature wine.

We promptly took the new product on a road trip, hosting tastings with sommeliers and food-and-beverage experts in Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The experimentation also continued, with eight cases sitting in Charleston Harbor for six months rather than three.

The tour prompted a certain amount of publicity last year. That’s when we heard from the feds. In March 2014 the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau sent us an email saying that it had identified several potential safety concerns regarding the ocean-aged wine. The letter was informal and contained no indication that we should cease and desist. We retrieved the eight cases, conducted additional tests and dropped a third batch into Charleston Harbor in November.

Then the federal government tried to end our experiment…

Read the full story: Wall Street Journal