A tiny business on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula is the toast of the world of 'fine' water, after being named the world's most unique sparkling variety for an unprecedented second consecutive time at the Fine Water Society Taste Awards in Stockholm this week.
The sparkling water entered by Aqui-Live was awarded gold at what is described as 'the Oscars of fine water', deemed the most distinctive and unique entry from a field of about 70 sparkling waters from around the world. Three of five judges awarded Aqui-Live Sparkling a perfect score of 100.
A second entry from Aqui-Live, their still water, won bronze in this year's competition, ahead of about 30 other competitors, having also won gold at last year's awards.
The company was founded by Dayle Purcell and Olaf Lyche, who bottle the water from an artesian spring arising in the backyard of their Red Hill holiday house. Tests have shown the water originates from an ancient aquifer, and is estimated to be 2000 years old.
"This is totally unprecedented. No water in the world has won back-to-back gold at Fine Waters," Olaf told Executive Style. "This is of great significance for Victoria and Australia, as the origin of the world's most unique mineral water. It's an extremely rare natural resource that deserves to be part of the fine dining experience."
After a battery of analysis, the couple learned that the water gently seeping into a corner of their backyard has been on a 2000-year journey, finishing at what turns out to be one of the purest and most mineral-rich artesian springs discovered anywhere in the world.
The water that the couple now bottle and market as Aqui-Live is believed to have originally soaked into the ground as rainwater run-off in New Zealand and seeped through cracks in tectonic plates to join an ancient aquifer that eventually flows beneath a section of southern Victoria. Its arrival in Olaf and Dayle's Red Hill backyard comes after rising 900 vertical metres via an artesian spring where it is filtered through pristine, mineral-rich soil.
"This water has been out of the cycle for at least 2000 years because that's the journey to the surface," Dayle says. "We don't know how long it's been in the aquifer. So it has a very high virginity – the chances of anyone ever having drunk the water before is extremely rare."
This 'virginity' lends Aqui-Live – as Dayle and Olaf have named the water they obtain from their spring – an astonishing level of purity. With just 0.008 milligrams of nitrate per litre, it is four times purer than the next purest commercially-available water on the market, and hundreds of times purer than the likes of market leaders Evian, Perrier, Volvic or Vittel.
Its mineral content of 1300 mg/l is also considered exceptional, with testing revealing it is the only commercially available artesian water in the world to contain 23 of the 24 essential minerals required by humans in optimal quantities – including rare trace minerals such as vanadium, selenium and iodine.
There's even solid science suggesting Aqui-Live may contain performance-enhancing attributes. Blind tests conducted by Melbourne's Victoria University, utilising elite athletes drinking either Aqui-Live or Melbourne tapwater over a month, demonstrated a performance advantage for the group drinking the water obtained directly from Dayle and Olaf's spring.
"It turned out to be 2.1 per cent improvement in the group that drank Aqui-Live," Olaf says. "That might not sound like much but if you are a marathon runner, or a 10,000m runner, or a triathlete, a 2 per cent improvement can be the difference between first and tenth spot."
But what has the couple most excited – and now, the rest of the 'fine water' world – is the taste and texture. As well as a swag of gold medals at the Taste Awards, their still and sparkling variants have also received coveted 'gourmet product' status from France's AVPA (Agency for the Valorisation of Agricultural Products).
The gourmand choice
Aqui-Live has also won the admiration of one of the world's top water sommeliers for its ability to complement fine dining. Martin Riese added Aqui-Live to his 'water menu' at Patina, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Los Angeles. He has since moved to a boutique hotel in West Hollywood, the Petit Ermitage, where Aqui-Live will be also offered to guests and diners.
"Aqui-Live is like drinking milk or a fine olive oil," Riese notes. "It's the only water I have tasted that has a texture. It is thick on the palate."
Olaf says the quality of water served at restaurants to complement high-end dining can make or break a meal. "This water has a place as a gastronomically important product in restaurants," he says.
"It can impact wine, it can impact food. And yes, you can make money as a restaurant by selling good water, because it gives a good taste experience."