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Follow the Story:  The “Champagne Schooner”

On an entirely too short visit to the Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington D.C.  a decade ago, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw a set of George Washington’s wooden teeth.  Ditto when I saw the pocket pistol that General Robert E. Lee carried in the Civil War and a corkscrew from Thomas Jefferson.  What enchanted me is precisely what enchants millions of school kids—history leaping off the pages of the textbook suddenly made relevant. 

I’ve pursued the triptych of history, wine and relevance since then.

Nearly equidistance between Finland and Sweden, an autonomous Swedish-speaking, Finnish country called Aland exists as a cluster of islands in the Baltic Sea.  There, the story of the so-called “Champagne Schooner” begins.

In the 1840s, a two-masted 70-foot long cargo ship set sail from an unknown port to an unknown destination.  Perhaps, the ship was sailing, as it has been alleged, to a Russian Emperor in St. Petersburg who never received his provisions from a ship that found a watery grave in the Baltic Sea. 

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In July of last year, divers discovered the ship wreck standing nearly upright in 160 feet of water in those same chilly, forbidding waters.  Preserved in a pristine 40 degree sea bath, in total darkness, 170 bottles of French Champagne were reclaimed to much international fanfare.

Under the supervision of the Aland government, divers took great care to extract the bottles from the wreckage, ensuring integrity in temperature and pressure fluctuation on their short journey to the surface and land.  All told, 172 hand-blown bottles finished with cork were found and 168 of the bottles were very nearly perfectly preserved.

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Representing the legacy Champagne house of Juglar (now Jacquesson) Veuve Clicquot and Heidsieck, the discovery is notable not just for the age of the Champagne, but also its quality.

Sampled in November of last year, Essi Avellan, MW said, “Sweet in style, bright golden in colour and honeyed and toasty in aromatics, both the wines were very much alive and remarkably fresh.  The Juglar was more harmonious and complete with Veuve Clicquot’s aroma being overwhelmingly pungent and smoky but the palate retain(ed) a freshness and an immense concentration.”

The end of this story will ultimately be written over a period of years as the wine is owned by the Aland government who are rightfully taking a judicious approach to the bounty.  To begin, auction house Acker Merrall & Condit will auction two bottles, one each from Juglar and Veuve Clicquot on June 3rd in Aland.

To follow this fascinating story from the beginning till now, below are a number of links to various resources and news articles on the wine from the “Champagne Schooner.”

Official Aland Champagne site

Official Aland Facebook page

PDF One-page download from Scandinavian Islands web site

Backstory from Alands museum site

Images from Alands museum exhibit

December 14, 2010 New York Times article

Reuters article on the pending auction



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Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (6) |


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