The oldest champagne found at the bottom of the sea
In the summer of 2010 a shipwreck was discovered in Föglö in Åland’s outer archipelago. The wreck contained 145 bottles of champagne and five bottles of beer from the 1840s.
Owing to the constant temperature between four and six degrees, the dark surroundings, the pressure inside the bottles and the pressure at the bottom of the sea, the champagne was in extremely good condition. Each bottle was uncorked, tasted and classified by international expert Richard Juhlin.
Three champagne houses
Sommelier Ella Grüssner Cromwell-Morgan from Åland sampled the first bottle that was brought up from the wreck. She waxed lyrical in the local press afterwards:
“The aroma of the wine is of mature fruit, with yellow raisin tones and a considerable hint of tobacco. Though it was so incredibly old, there was a freshness about the wine. It wasn’t at all stiff, but rather had a clear acidity backing up its sweetness. Finally, an extremely clear flavour of oak cask storage.”
Out of the bottles that were salvaged, 95 were from the Juglar champagne house, which closed down in 1829. The same owners produce Jacquesson today. Veuve Clicquot was represented by 46 bottles and Heidsieck & Co by four. The Veuve Clicquot bottles are dated 1842–1843, dates which were arrived at based on the label on the cork.
An auction record
During Mariehamn’s first champagne auction in 2011 the Acker Merrall & Condit auctioneers sold 15 items from the Veuve Clicquot cellars in addition to the two bottles of champagne from the wreck.
The Juglar bottle was sold for 24,000 euros while the Veuve Clicquot champagne, dating back to approximately 1841, went for 30,000 euros, setting a new world record. The earlier record, set in 2008, was USD 84,700 for two bottles of 1959 Dom Perignon Rosé.
The auction in Åland was one of the most historic ever in terms of the wine world, according to John Kapon, CEO of the auctioneers. Fabienne Moreau from the champagne house expressed the view that the bottle might have been sampled by Madame Clicquot herself.
The auction in 2012 was conducted by auctioneers Artcurial; six bottles of Juglar were sold, four of Veuve Clicquot and one of Heidsieck & Co together with some vintage Veuve Clicquot champagne.
In the museum and out on loan
The wreck and its cargo belong to Åland’s Provincial Government. Some of the bottles are on general display in The Cultural History Museum of Aland and two are on display at Veuve Clicquot’s premises in France. One bottle was sent out on loan to London for a wine exhibition that was to be held there, and a bottle that the Stallhagen brewery bought at auction in 2012 was sent to one of the brewery’s contacts in Japan. The history of the wreck champagne still attracts attention and the Government of Åland has plans to produce a portable display stand to facilitate the loan of a bottle in the future as well.
More wrecks in the depths
Apart from the champagne wreck that was found in 2010, a further wreck with bottles of champagne in its cargo has been found in Åland waters. It was in the autumn of 2016 that a wreck containing hundreds of bottles was found on the seabed by the Björkör nature reserve in the Föglö archipelago. The wreck is classified as an ancient monument and the Government of Åland has not given permission for it to be disturbed so none of the bottles have been salvaged from it. There are probably even more ships that sank with bottles of expensive drink on board. For example, a shipwreck report from a ship that sank in the same area in 1805 refers to the cargo having included bottles of champagne.
One company that keeps the history of the wreck champagne alive is Silverskär in Saltvik in Åland’s northern archipelago. They have started a research project together with Veuve Clicquot and the University of Reims in France on the storage of champagne on the seabed and how the drink is affected.
A champagne cage was sunk down to the seabed in Saltvik and a champagne keeper’s cottage was built on a nearby islet. In 2017 a few bottles were brought up for the first time for tasting and comparing with bottles that had been stored in the champagne cellar in Reims. It turned out that the champagne that had been stored on the seabed had matured and developed more slowly than the bottles that had been stored in the cellar, which is positive in terms of the quality of the drink. The contract between Silverskär and Veuve Clicquot is for 40 years and another tasting is to be done in a few years’ time.
Funding for research
After the champagne auctions of 2011 and 2012, the Government of Åland awarded grants for research on the Baltic Sea’s marine environment, marine archaeology and maritime history. Funding for the research has also come from sales of the Stallhagen Brewery’s Historic Beer 1842. The research received a total of EUR 25,000 in funding.