It seems bizarre to them now, but there was once a time when Dayle Purcell and Olaf Lyche didn't spend every waking moment obsessed with water.
One of the great accidental discoveries changed that. A chance remark from a friend, about water seeping from what they assumed was a run-of-the-mill spring in the backyard of their five-hectare Mornington Peninsula holiday house, prompted a curious test.
"He's really into health. He hikes up into the hills to find natural springs, and he dipped his hand in the water one day and said, 'I think you should get this tested'," Purcell says.
That test and others that followed revealed the water bubbling from a boggy, overgrown hole in the ground – previously dubbed "the frog love hotel" by the couple – was different to other spring waters. How different? It is believed to be the most naturally pure and mineral-laden water discovered anywhere in Australia. And in the five years since the frog hangout gave up its secret, Lyche and Purcell have not found anything to rival it anywhere else in the world.
"There is only one artesian mineral water in the country going commercially, and that's us," Lyche confirms. "Artesian means coming to the surface naturally. There are only a few water producers in the world that are true artesians."
Tests have shown the water source is a subterranean aquifer some 900 metres below the ground. The contents of the aquifer originate in New Zealand, where rainwater soaked into the ground and seeped through tectonic plates. This journey from a NZ cloudburst to the backyard of Lyche and Purcell's Red Hill holiday house may have taken millennia – at least the last 2000 of which have been rising through the mineral-rich, clay-like soil beneath the Mornington Peninsula.
There are 23 minerals in it - the body needs 24.
"Normal water is in, out, up, and down again," Purcell says. "So if you're drinking rainwater, you're drinking other people's pee, essentially. This water has been out of the cycle for at least 2000 years because that's the journey to the surface. 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."
Lyche adds: "When we started testing it, we didn't understand what the first results meant. So we started reading about it. Then we tested it again, and all the values didn't change."
Keen to share their find with the world, they named the water Aqui-Live, and set up a small collector to capture the water at its source. It is trucked to a nearby plant where it's bottled in both still and sparkling varieties, the latter with light carbonation added.
A swag of awards confirms that their mineral-laden water is indeed something special. It was recently named the world's most unique water for the second consecutive year by the Fine Water Society, and has been bestowed "gourmet" status in France, one of the world's most prolific and expert markets in fine mineral waters.
Purity is another key measure of fine water, and it's here that Aqui-Live really shines, with purity levels of 100 to 400 times those of some well-known premium bottled waters, and four times the next-best result for any commercial mineral water. "Purity is measured by nitrates – foreign matter that shouldn't be there like animal waste, human waste, fertilisers, pesticides, heavy metal," Lyche says. "Normal water has one milligram of nitrates per litre, and less than that is better. Normal Melbourne tap water is about 1.75 to 1.8, and it fluctuates. We're 0.008 milligrams per litre."
Making health claims about a product or treatment can be a fraught business – just ask Belle Gibson. Yet the wealth of test results that Lyche, a former software project manager, and Purcell, who worked in the fashion industry, have collected is compelling.
"There are 23 minerals [in Aqui-Live], the body needs 24 – we are only missing one," Lyche says. "You will not find other waters in the world with anywhere near this list.
"In general, people are demineralised. There are not enough minerals in the soil any more, they have been washed away over decades with fertilisers and pesticides. We don't get important trace minerals like zinc, iodine, silica, boron, but also magnesium.
"Magnesium is the most important mineral for your health; it controls nearly everything in your body and we don't get enough in today's diet. It's a rare mineral to get. Two litres of Aqui-Live a day gives you half of the magnesium content you need every day."
Purity and an abundance of mineral content are one thing, taste quite another. But as their ever-expanding trophy collection attests, Aqui-Live also scores in this metric and has garnered no lesser fan of the brand than international water competition judge Martin Riese.
The German-born, American-based "water sommelier" worked until recently for the Michelin-starred French restaurant Patina, in Los Angeles, where he compiled a water menu that featured Aqui-Live. Now at West Hollywood boutique hotel Petit Ermitage, he has again installed Aqui-Live prominently on the menu.
Riese says Aqui-Live is easily identifiable, even in blind-tasting competitions. "I am always looking for something interesting in water, like a characteristic of the water that I can remember the water by. Aqui-Live has a very special texture," he tells Good Food.
"A lot of people might say: 'Come on, texture in water, that's crazy – it's just water.' But think about whole milk versus low-fat milk versus non-fat milk; the texture of the different types of milk are completely different, and that can happen in water as well.
"Aqui-Live has a very unique texture, it's slightly thick on your palate. When you close your eyes and drink the water, texture-wise, it could be whole milk. I am fascinated about that and that is the reason I can recognise the water in blind tastings right away."
Lyche says many top restaurants go to great lengths to offer a menu comprising exquisite locally sourced ingredients matched to a carefully curated wine list, only to overlook the "third element" on the dining table.
"People forget that on the table they serve food, wine and water. They don't care about what water they serve, so they serve a $100 bottle of wine with tap water and it kills the taste. With ours, you will taste it. It's like it gives the palate a platform.
"So a key message we are telling restaurants is that it matters what water you serve, it impacts the palate more than you think."
Riese agrees carefully selected water can elevate dining. "Water has taste, and a good restaurant caters to their guest. Guests have different tastes, so a selection of different waters is a nice touch for the guests," he says.
Lyche and Purcell's accidental discovery of a virtually limitless supply of one of the world's most unique artesian water sources has the potential to make them quite wealthy. Instead, the couple say that once production reaches the spring's capacity, they will cover their costs, pay themselves a salary and then donate all the profits to charity, specifically aiming to assist women who are victims of family violence.
"We want a business that's successful, but we have enough. We don't need more," Purcell says. "This water is a gift to us. We didn't make it, we just lucked out that it happened to be on our property."