Over 2,000 Bottles Of Illegal Luxury “Ocean Floor” Wine Poured Out

By Lauren Bray, edhat staff

Thousands of bottles of wine illegally aging on the ocean floor in the Santa Barbara Channel were confiscated and poured out.

Ocean Fathoms is a Santa Barbara-based company that works with winemakers and vineyards to age bottles of wine in their “sea cellar,” also known as the Pacific Ocean. 

Santa Barbara County District Attorney John T. Savrnoch announced Wednesday that his office with assistance from the City of Santa Barbara and the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages Control (ABC), disposed of approximately 2,000 bottles of wine and other alcohol that were illegally possessed for sale by Ocean Fathoms and its principals, Emanuele Azzaretto and Todd Hahn.

Savrnoch stated the seizure was in connection with an illegal underwater wine aging and sales operation. The alcohol was disposed of at one of Santa Barbara’s wastewater treatment plants, and the glass bottles were taken for recycling.

(Photo: Ocean Fathoms)

The destruction was part of a plea agreement in which Ocean Fathoms, Hahn, and Azzaretto pled guilty to three misdemeanor criminal charges, including a violation of the Water Code for illegally discharging material into waters of the United States, selling alcohol without a license, and aiding and abetting investor fraud, Savrnoch stated.

According to the District Attorney’s Office, in 2017 Hahn and Azzaretto began sinking crates of wine one mile off the environmentally sensitive Santa Barbara coast.

For several years, the pair failed to obtain any required permits from the California Coastal Commission or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before depositing the crates on the ocean floor. They left each crate on the sea floor for one year, just long enough for a reef ecosystem to develop in the crates and on the bottles. After a year, the crates were removed, along with the sea life living in them.

The company’s website states the ocean is consistently 55 degrees and there’s no sound, oxygen, or UV light contamination while the slow movement from the current helps to move the wine inside the bottles. 

“The Santa Barbara Channel offers not only the perfect environment for the aging process of wine, but is [sic] sits in a rich sea-life transition zone, where cold arctic waters meet warmer waters from the equator providing more than 100 species of flora and fauna unique to this location. The combination of flora and fauna attracts an abundance of sea-creatures and sea-life which ultimately adorn our bottles,” their website states.

Ocean floor aged wine bottles from Ocean Fathoms (Photo: Ocean Fathoms)

Their website also includes a patent number and states their recycled cages are in a beautifully symbiotic relationship with the ocean. US Patent Process #US10,611,990B1 lists Azzaretto and Kieran Maloney as inventors of an apparatus with an outer cage, an inner age, and an “array of electrodes” that accellerates alcoholic beverage maturation.

Their company, officially named 50 Fathoms LLC but doing business as Ocean Fathoms, began selling single bottles of wine for as much as $500. Most of the wine currently listed on their website are from local regions while sparkling wine is direct from France. 

However, the federal Food and Drug Administration considered the wine adulterated and not fit for human consumption, because it was submerged in the ocean and potentially contaminated. The wine was also sold without any of the required federally-approved labeling.

Additionally, Ocean Fathoms was selling the wine without an ABC alcohol sales permit and without a valid business license. The company was also collecting sales tax from its customers without ever paying those taxes to the State of California.

Finally, the company advertised that it was donating a portion of its profits to a local environmental nonprofit, yet there was no evidence that any donations were ever made. The company took thousands of dollars from investors without ever disclosing that they were operating in violation of the law.

“The motive for engaging in this unlawful operation was financial, and the People’s complaint alleged that nearly every aspect of their business was conducted in violation of state or federal law,” Savrnoch stated.

In addition to the destruction of their inventory, worth several hundred thousand dollars, Ocean Fathoms, Azzaretto, and Hahn are on probation with terms that prevent them from operating their business in violation of the law. They were also required to pay $50,000 in restitution to one of their investors.

“This case involved individuals who operated with complete disregard for our consumer and environmental laws. The California Coastal Commission referred the case to our Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit and, because of the broad scope of violations, we investigated with the help of five state and local agencies. The case highlights the importance of our office’s relationship with outside agencies and it demonstrates our commitment to holding companies and individuals accountable for violating all types of consumer and environmental laws,” said Savrnoch.

Below is an news story and interview with Azzaretto from CBS Morning News in August 2021: 


Written by lauren

Lauren is the Publisher of edhat.com. She enjoys short walks on the beach, interesting facts about bees, and any kind of homemade cookie.

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  1. Sounds like these guys had a good idea and were demonstrably stupid about it. Why not get all the necessary permits? Why not comply with the law? If they did then they’d really have something interesting. It’s not like they were flying under the radar. They were in the news and on TV for gosh sakes. And saying you’re donating to a nonprofit and not doing that? Tacky and cheap. According to their instagram it looks like they stiffed the Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute.
    I’m going to have to agree with the below quote from a 2021 LA Times article:
    “A UC Davis professor of viticulture called it marketing voodoo aimed at rich people who want something in their collection to brag about.”

  2. This scam is based, I think, on the publicity given to wine occasionally recovered from sunken ships. Some of this stuff is hundreds of years old. The people who have tasted the wine rave about it but one should suspect they are just enchanted with the idea of drinking the stuff. Anyway, seems to me that the schemers here just decided to tap that publicity and get the suckers lined up. Who knows, maybe it is a good aging device if done right.

  3. The only way this type of aging process will work without adversely affecting the ecosystem/environment is to give government their cut. Once the gov gets their $$, then the so-called rules and regulations go out the window. The authorities pretty much don’t care in many cases as long as they get paid.
    BTW, there’s puh-lenty of this ocean-aged wine out there if you know where to look. You can even do it yourself if you have a boat/kayak or the like. Just go out to one of the kelp beds at low tide and drop a metal crate (an old dishwasher rack works great!) filled with wine (secure the wine with chicken wire) in and tie it off to a strand of kelp. Simply wait several months or longer, and voila…..you got yourself some of that special wine complete with creatures attached to the bottle!!!

  4. Sacjon
    Set up a place, business, address where you know someone well enough, and I’ll drop a bottle off there for you to pick up. You can review it here, maybe start a new career as edhats Bourbon taster.
    If Bevmo has it for order, I can buy you a bottle and leave it under “sacjon” for pick up. You and I will never agree on politics, but I respect your right to think your way.

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