Circa 1800: A ship is headed east across the Baltic Sea but never reaches its final destination.
2003: The Finnish Maritime Administration using multibeam sonar discovers what looks to be a shipwreck. The indication from the sonar is recorded but the existence of the ship remains unconfirmed until the summer of 2010.
2007: A member of the Åland Maritime Historical Society (Ålands marinhistoriska sällskap, ÅMS) requests a number of locations from the Finnish Maritime Administration. ÅMS’s plans are to conduct a number of dives of sites that have been found but where shipwrecks have not yet been confirmed.
2007-2009: The Åland Maritime Historical Society’s plans to explore on the location (together with diver Mr. Christian Ekström) never materialises.
Events of 2010 – The Year of Discovery
July 13: Swedish divers onboard the diving vessel Pagi are on a diving expedition to the Åland Islands
They dive on a location that they received from Mr. Ekström. Much to their surprise they discover a well-preserved shipwreck and towards the end of the dive they uncover what seems to be a large amount of well preserved champagne bottles.
The Swedish divers contact Mr. Ekström who arrives at the location. When Mr. Ekström learns about the findings on board the shipwreck he contacts the Åland Board of Antiquities and asks for the permission to bring a bottle to the surface. Permission is granted and one bottle is brought to the surface. As the bottle is sees the light of day for the first time in 200 years the cork slowly pops open. The divers decide on an impromptu champagne tasting session after which they seal the bottle in order to preserve the contents.
July 16: Local newspaper Ålandstidningen is first to publishes a story about what is believed to be the world’s oldest champagne
Swedish champagne expert Richard Juhlin believes that the champagne is from the house of Veuve Clicquot. However, Veuve Clicquot later denounces this, as they believe that the bottle is from the champagne house Juglar.
July 19: Diving restrictions are introduced
The Government of Åland opts to impose diving restrictions at the shipwreck’s location in order to minimize the risk of “contamination and unintended damage” i.e. champagne poachers.
July 22: The Champagne is for real
At a meeting in Stockholm experts from Champagne in France conclude that the bottle is a real champagne bottle. However the age of the champagne still remains unsolved.
July 30: A number of dives are made to further explore the ship and determine its age and origin
Under the auspices of the Åland Board of Antiquities additional dives are conducted during the second half of July. At a press conference on July 30th the Goverment reveals – among other things – that the number of bottles are closer to 70 than 30 as was originally believed. The condition of the bottles remains unknown.
August 2 & 3: Controversy arises concerning the findings
The two local newspapers (Ålandstidningen and Nya Åland) and the Swedish forum for divers Dykarna.nu (most notably this post) are filled with arguments and counter-arguments regarding almost all things concerning the shipwreck. Involved parties are the Åland Maritime Historical Society (Ålands marinhistoriska sällskap, ÅMS), the Swedish divers on the diving vessel Pagi, and Mr. Ekström. The Government of Åland opts not to enter into the debate. Issues disputed are; a) Who know about the location of the shipwreck, b) Should the location of the shipwreck been kept private, c) Who first discovered the shipwreck, d) Who first discovered the bottles?
The information presented on this page has been compiled after close study of the discussions. However, it seems truth remains an elusive object especially in the murky waters of the Baltic Sea. At Champagne.ax we pose the question: Are the bottles cursed?
August 6-26: Anders Näsman Services is asked to submit a tender for bringing the bottles to the surface
The Government of Åland agrees to pay 80.000€ to recover the bottles and perform additional sampling of the ship’s timber in order to be able to determine the age of the ship.
August 9: The (now empty) champagne bottle is up for display at the Åland Museum
August 31: The Government of Åland announces that the salvage of the bottles has begun
The salvage is surrounded by secrecy and the local government has to take flak from a local reporter for how it handled information regarding the salvage. On 1 September media and government kiss and make up as media are invited to come along for the ride and join the salvage team for the day.
September 2: “Probably the oldest beer in the world” has been found
At a press conference the local government announces that the shipwreck also contained three – possibly four – beer bottles. The beer bottles probably contain the oldest beer in the world. Experts believe that it could be possible to – based on the remaining yeast – start reproduction of the 200 year old beer.
September 2 & 3: The Local Government begins to publish information about the shipwreck online
A subsection of the website of Åland Board of Antiquities is dedicated to the Champagne Schooner and the Åland Islands Museum & the Åland Museum of Art publishes photos on its Facebook page. All in all media coverage during week 35 is the largest ever for the Åland Islands.
September 4: Local microbrewery Stallhagen wants to reproduce the world’s oldest beer
Acting CEO of local microbrewery Stallhagen Mr. Janne Laiho says they are willing and able to start reproducing the 200 year old beer. Stallhagen has contacted the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland in order to do research into the properties of the yeast and beer. Rumors have it that many other large international breweries are also interested in reproducing the beer. The local government adopts a wait and see approach.
September 15 & 17: Salvaged items from the champagne are exhibited at the Åland Museum. The Åland Board of Antiquities’ secures 113.000€ in additional funding to further explore the shipwreck.
November 17: A Press event is held in the Åland Islands and number of important announcements are made:
News about the world’s oldest champagne:
- 168 bottles of champagne have been recoverd
- 10 bottles have so far been recorked
- 1 bottled was opened when the bottles were first discoverd, 2 bottles were consumed at today’s happening. This leaves 165 bottles left in stock.
- 5 bottles will be preserved for posterity in one or more museums.
- The champagne is from two different champagne houses (Juglar and Veuve Clicquot).
- An international wine auction will be held on Åland to auction of some of the bottles. The number of bottles and when and how is still up in the air. This will require permission from the state of Finland.
- A new label of champagne is going to be introduced. Some old champagne will be mixed with new champagne into exclusive champagne “cuvee”.
News about the World’s oldest beer:
- 5 bottles of beer were recovered from the wreck.
- Interest in reproducing the beer has been huge. Large North-American breweries as well as local brewery Stallhagen has shown interest in reproducing the beer.
- One bottle has been sent to a laboratory in Helsinki. There the state of the yeast will be researched. Is the yeast dead, sleeping or alive?
- The goal of the government is to license the beer for commercial production.
Additionally, a few selected journalists from major international TV stations and newspapers get to taste two of the bottles.
December: The local government decides that all but five bottles shall be re-corked. Ten bottles were record earlier as a test and now all but the five bottles reserved for display in museums will be recorked using equipment and expertise from the world’s leading cork producer Amorim. The recorking will help preserve the champagne, determine the quality of the contents, as well as origin of each bottle. During the recorking champagne expert Richard Juhlin will have to sample the contents of all the bottles. During re-corking one corck had the signature Werle as in Eduoard Werlé of Veuve Clicquot. Werlé had his name imprinted starting from 1831.
Champagne house Veuve Clicquot and the Government of Åland sign an agreement specifying that Veuve Clicquot will create a “Room of Åland” in its visitors center. In return Veuve Clicquot is allowed to use the champagne from the shipwreck for marketing purposes. One of the champagne bottles will be deposited (free of charge) in the care of Veuve Clicquot.
Events of 2011 – The Year of the first Auction
January: The Government of Åland starts of the new year with making a surprise announcement that four bottles of the Heidsieck champagne were among the 145 bottles of champagne recovered from the Champagne Schooner in July 2010. The bottles are believed to be the world’s oldest Heidsieck champagne. The Heidsieck & Co Monopole house is owned by Vranken Pommery Monopole.
The press release issued today by the Government of Åland summarises results of the re-corking:
- 95 bottles of Juglar
- 46 bottles of Veuve Clicquot
- 4 bottles of Heidsieck
Experts have dated some bottles to the late 1820’s and other bottles to the early 1830’s.
February: The Government of Åland announces that the beer will be analyzed by the Technical Research Centre of Finland, VTT. Results are due in May.
March & April: The Government of Åland decided to auction of one bottle of Juglar and one bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne on 3 June on the Åland Islands. Offers to arrange the auction has been sent to Christie’s and Sotheby’s in London and Acker Merrall & Condit in New York. In April the Government of Åland annonces that auctioneers will be Acker Merrall & Condit. Local press reports that Christie’s and Sotheby’s would rather have arranged the auction in China. The Government of Åland also reserves 185.000€ to further explore of the champagne wreck (a.k.a. wreck M1 Fö 403.3) as well as commercialise the champagne and beer.
May: The Government of Åland partners with Veuve Clicquot in the upcoming champagne auction in Mariehamn, Åland on 3 June 2011. In addition to the shipwreck bottles, Veuve Clicquot will bring in bottles from their own cellars. These rare bottles are not normally for sale on the market and are expected to gain further interest in the auction.
*) This timeline will be continuously updated and revised. Current as of April 2011. Partial coverage of May.