By Scott Radway

KOROR, Palau, (Pacific Daily News, Nov. 6) - Legend has it that 14th-century treasure hunters diving for gold in old shipwrecks more often found bottles of wine. But to their rousing surprise, the taste was exquisite, the wine aged perfectly.

Now the Palau government is writing a 21st-century version of that old tale. With the help of Japanese wine makers, Palau is about to sink 30,000 bottles of top Japanese wine in the ocean off Palau for a year.

The current theory is that at 60 feet below sea level, the stable tropical temperatures will provide the perfect conditions for wine aging. In other words, the two countries are teaming up to turn some of Palau's sparkling seas into a world-class wine cellar.

"This is an ingenious way to promote the pristine waters of Palau," President Tommy Remengesau said during a wine-tasting ceremony that launched the Palau Japan Wine Collaboration project. The wine will be advertised as having aged in "one of the world's most pristine waters."

Meetings take place this week with Japanese technicians to design a container for the wine.

Remengesau expressed gratitude to the cooperation from the wine makers of Katsunuma City in the Yamanashi Prefecture and the wine makers of Hakodate City and of Otaru City in the Hokkaido Prefecture, all well known for their fine wine. In all, eight types of wine will be submerged.

Santos Olikong, the Palauan ambassador to Japan, said it would have been difficult for Palau to produce its own wine, so the island nation approached Japanese officials with the idea about a year ago. The label with a traditional Palauan meetinghouse, or abai, and the president's signature was only recently finalized.

The first 10,000 bottles from Yamanashi began to arrive last month, Olikong said. The next 20,000 bottles will be sent from wine makers in Hakodate City and Otaru City. The wineries are providing the bottles at no cost and Palau will front the cost of building the container, submerging and ensuring that no 21st-century treasure hunters go looking for a few bottles.

The bottles and profits will be split evenly between Palau and the wineries after the year. Palau plans to sell its share at home, and in Guam and Hawaii, employing their tariff-free trading privileges with the United States. The bottles, a novelty gift item, Olikong said, will go for about $50 a pop. Olikong added even if the venture breaks even in the first year, the partners would have gained thousands in promotions for Palau.

The long-term plan is to hand over the Palau share of the business to the private sector, hopefully in its second year. In the meantime, Remengesau is asking his citizens to support the wine submersion project, especially those who are regarded for their diving skills.

"I would ask the citizens of Palau to refrain from diving to 60 feet to open one of these bottles," the president said.

November 6, 2003

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