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Lake Treasures: The Underwater Wine of Lac des Graves

Auvergne’s millennia-old lakes are natural vaults, full of — to paraphrase Shakespeare — ooze and sumless treasure. Many secrets lie hidden beneath their waves. In former times, some lakes — like the volcanic Lac Pavin — were believed to be the watery lairs of phantoms and monsters. Today, some lakes have become the resting places of a new kind of treasure: wine. As I write, hundreds of bottles of Auvergnat wine are currently sleeping soundly in the sunless depths, undisturbed by the hectic world above.

Underwater wine is fast-becoming somewhat of an Auvergne tradition. Inspired by the theory that wine aged under water develops a subtler, more refined finish, winemakers like the Riom-based Benoît Montel have been submerging vessels of Auvergne wine in Lac Pavin since at least 2012.

Sébastien Usse, the manager of Le Domaine du Lac des Graves — a lakeside resort in Cantal — has continued this tradition and added a local touch. In 2018, he plunged 200 bottles of La Légendaire — an Auvergnat wine — into Lac des Graves. After ten months he called on local divers to help raise up his treasure from the abyss. Usse told La Montagne that the flavour of the wines had become “more delicate”, allowing their natural aromas to “blossom”. Usse sold bottles directly to guests at the Restaurant du Lac des Graves and they immediately became best sellers.

Photo: Le Lac des Graves

Overjoyed with the results, Usse deposited almost 600 bottles on the lake floor in 2019. Since then, his diving partners have returned several times to place and dredge up additional crates of wine.

Although winemakers from outside Auvergne have asked Usse for permission to use the lake, Usse has reportedly refused all offers, insisting that the process should remain a unique combination of Auvergne elements in order to produce “super results”.

Accordingly, in order to try a bottle of the Légendaire “Confinée” wine, you’ll need to plan a journey to Le Domaine du Lac des Graves. Located in Cantal’s Jordanne Valley, the resort is a mesmerising getaway, offering an extensive portfolio of rentable properties and amenities, including a hotel, chalets, and lodges.

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