There are many wrecks in the Baltic Sea water, quite an incredible number in fact. Just between Öland and Gotland, said Anders Näsman, leader of the diving expedition that found the wreck, there are in fact 1500 listed but still unexplored potential wrecks.
So why did it happen that Anders and his friends came to dive right on this particular wreck? Actually, they were on their way to an other wreck lying a little further south in the Åland archipelago. Unfortunately they were delayed 6-7 hours and realized that they would not make it down to the planned wreck. So they then looked at the map of other reported locations of possible wrecks, and focused on those who simply were closest to their position. With a “side-scan sonar” (advanced sonar that illuminates the subject from the side), they found wooden ship which turned out to be on about 45-48 meters depth, straight no the keel with two masts still standing. These types of wrecks that are standing on the keep are often referred to as “Donald Duck wrecks” by the divers, and is not very common, as the ships usually turns down on the side, or up-side-down when they are foundering.
First dive July 6, 2010 showed that the ship was a two-masted boat, called a schooner, with miscellaneous cargo, including champagne-like bottles. Once back up on their diving boat called Pai, they contacted the authorities in Mariehamn and they got permission to salvage one of the bottles the same day in order to possibly date the ship. Christian Ekstrom, self from Åland, salvaged one of the bottles. The team noted after tasting the beverage, that the bottle contained champagne, albeit very different than the champagne we drink today. From here, everything went very quickly told Anders. A sommelier on the island, that one in the diving team was acquainted with since before, was contacted and she also got to taste the drink, (that would later prove to be the most expensive champagne ever), so far no disposition consumed. (When we pair up with Anders on the ferry back to Sweden, he told me that he and Christian figured out that they had drunk champagne for each of about 18 000 € …) The authorities on Åland were informed and even Richard Julin, the swedish champagne expert, was involved within the course of 24 hours.
It was decided that everything would be kept very secret because of the risk of looters, and that as speedily as possible to salvage the champagnes. Anders and Christian’s diving team and the boat Pai was responsible for leading the expedition along with conservators from the Åland museeum. After several dives to do inventory and careful planning, the bottles were salvaged between the 23rd of August and 2nd of September 2010.
The first cork from the bottle that was recovered was found to have an anchor printed on the bottom, which made the team think that the champagne was coming from the house Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, and the company’s historian Fabienne Moreau was contacted. The cork turned out instead to belong to the house of Juglar, which seased to exist 1829th when it was bought by an other firm. Despite this fact the house of VCP (Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin) decided to offer their help, when it came to the work with new corks that needed to be provided, to secure the content of the bottles. During the work with the re-corking, it was found that the cargo of champagne also contained VCP bottles (to Moreaus delight), and bottles from the house of Heidsieck.
Total found: 98 bottles of Juglar, 47 bottles of VCP and 3-4 bottles of Heidsieck.
Rickard Julin testing every single bottle before re-corking, noted that one third of what was salvaged was undrinkable and more like stink bombs than anything else. One third was so strong in his character that if something, it can be used to “spice up” another champagne and maybe do a Åland Cuvée in the future. So we’ll keep our eyes open in terms of VCP’s launches in the coming years, since a collaboration with another champagne seems unlikely. The last third that was salvaged was fantastic and obviously very strong in the character in general. I asked Fabienne Moreau, how many grams of sugar the champagnes contained and she said that the bottles from the VCP contained 144 grams sugar/liter, while those from Juglar was slightly sweeter. Not surprising given that the champagnes are from the 1800’s first half, and that they probably were on their way to a Russian garrison in Åland, or possibly to the Tsar in St. Petersburg. Fabienne was of course as a historian quite excited about these bottles, since the oldest cuvée in VCP’s own cellar does not date further back than the 1905 harvest. As these bottles found dated to the early 1800’s, it means that Madame Clicquot Ponsardin has been involved in producing these bottles herself, which in itself would give any champagne historian goosebumps.
Finally may be mentioned that the house Heidsieck was noticed by their absence, although they had but four bottles in the cargo. But some of the divers told us on the boat back that the house of Heidsieck had been contacted and that all of their bottles were drinkable. Perhaps, they are biding their time to have an auction all on their own? So perhaps we will soon go to Åland again for a very special Heidsieck stunt?!