In the summer of 2010 divers from Åland and Sweden found 145 unique bottles of champagne and five bottles of beer in a shipwreck 50 metres down in the Åland outer archipelago south of Föglö.
Before the wreck dive the divers had scanned the area of water with a side-scan sonar and seen a clear image of a sailing ship. It was on its keel and had two unbroken masts. Down at the wreck visibility was just one or two metres.
A wreck that was almost intact
The divers swam to the bow first and then systematically searched the hull with the help of strong lamps. The carvel-built 21.5-metre-long and 6.5-metre-wide hull turned out to be almost intact, except for the stern, which had fallen off.
Immediately astern of the rear mast on the port side the divers found a brick stove with pots and pans. The sides of the stove were still there. The construction of the hull and the objects found indicated that the wreck could be close to two hundred years old.
At the stern, starboard of the rudder stock, there were several bottles of some kind of sparkling wine. Before the divers left the wreck they took a bottle with them.
The bottle that was retrieved from the depths of the sea turned out to contain well-preserved, high-class champagne. The storage conditions – at the right temperature and in the dark – had been ideal, and the pressure in the bottles had ensured that no salt water could penetrate through the corks.
On 16 July the news was published that “the world’s oldest champagne” had been found in Åland. A huge mass media frenzy ensued and journalists from all over the world drew attention to the find.
In order to protect the wreck, the Åland Provincial Government quickly brought in restrictions on diving in the area. At the end of July the photo documentation and a number of objects were subject to a protective salvage operation under the supervision of the province’s museum office.
In addition to the champagne, which was then sampled, classified and recorked, and the beer, which was sent off for analysis, objects such as octants, earthenware jugs and china were collected. These included some plates manufactured at Rörstrand porcelain factory in the period 1820–1880. The cargo also included traces of delicacies such as grapes.
The following summer the Åland Provincial Government together with the A2 Subsea Exploration company carried out a marine-archaeological investigation of the ship. Sediment and dendrochronological samples were taken.
The aim was to identify the wreck and establish its home port and destination, as well as the circumstances of its sinking. But to date neither the investigations nor archive information have been able to reveal anything more about the ship. We can only speculate as to where it might have come from and where it was going.
The ship was probably wrecked when she came into the old channel to Björkör from the south. The investigations and find indicate that the ship dates from the first half of the 1800s. The sunken ship has been accorded ancient monument status and belongs to the Åland Provincial Government.