In metal cages at the bottom of Charleston Harbor sit six cases of cabernet and two of chardonnay from Napa Valley's Mira winery. They're part of a tiny ongoing experiment to study the effects of underwater pressure, temperature, and agitation on the aging process, inspired in part by some surprisingly good bottles salvaged from shipwrecks.
In March, however, federal regulators decided the wine (dubbed "Aquaoir") might be contaminated with "filth," "effluents," and "bilge waters," even though the corks were sealed with wax and even though a previous batch showed clean test results.
The Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau—charged with overseeing wine labeling—announced that it would punt any requests from vintners to the Food and Drug Administration, essentially putting a halt to all sales and even tasting of the wine.
Jim Dyke, the president of Mira, would like to continue the experiment, but he's unsure whether he can. "Anytime when there's heavy-handedness by the government, that creates uncertainty," he says. For now, Mira will pull up the remaining wine this summer and analyze it in a lab, since that's "the one thing they don't forbid us from doing."