Divers have started an operation to salvage dozens of bottles of vintage champagne from a shipwreck off the coast of Finland. The bubbly, which was first discovered in a sunken vessel off the semi-autonomous maritime province of the Aland Islands in July, is thought to be the oldest in the world, having sat on the seabed for more than 200 years.
After one bottle was brought to the surface following a tip-off from local fishermen, wine experts suggested that the fizz comes from the 1722-established French wine house Veuve Cliquot, valuing each bottle at around EUR 50,000. The sunken treasure, however, attracted widespread media attention, prompting the Aland Provincial Government to impose a ban on diving in the area.
In an undercover exercise, one more bottle was raised from the depths on 26 August, but the news has only just been released to the media. More of the ancient wine is expected to reach the surface over the next few days.
“We needed time to prepare for making a statement and issuing photographs. We also wanted to guarantee peaceful working conditions for the divers. We did not want to endanger the process,” said Bjorn Gaggblom, spokesman for the province.
Rubber caps are being pulled over the necks of the bottles once they reach the surface in order to stop the long-submerged corks drying out.
“Nothing is forever. The preservation of champagne depends specifically on the closure technique of the bottle,” said Swedish conservator Max Jarehorn in a Helsingin Sanomat report.
The retrieval of the sought-after champers is costing the Aland government around EUR 85,000. Auction houses around the world are however vying for the right to sell the antique wine.