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Treasure trove of long-lost 19th century Champagne unearthed in France

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Treasure trove of long-lost 19th century Champagne unearthed in France
1.5 million bottles of Pol Roger bubbly lied buried . Photo: AFP
13:00 CET+01:00
The Champagne house Pol Roger has unearthed bottles of vintage bubbly from the debris of cellars that collapsed in 1900 and buried more than a million bottles of the luxury wine.

Experts say the Champagne may well still be drinkable and the producer is hoping to retrieve many more bottles from the cellars in the town of Epernay in the heart of the Champagne region of northeastern France.

The story began on 23 February 1900 when two floors of cellars collapsed overnight.

"At about 2 am in the morning, a dull rumble similar to the sound of thunder" awoke Maurice Roger, who had taken over the house with his brother Georges from their father Pol in 1899, according to an account by local trade paper Le Vigneron Champenois.

The firm’s vast cellars as well as some of the buildings above had collapsed, burying 1.5 million bottles and 500 casks of Champagne.

"It was the beginning of both the dreams and nightmares of generations of the family and cellarmasters," Laurent d’Harcourt, the current president of Pol Roger," told Wine Spectator news site.

The owners at the time considered tunnelling in to retrieve the buried wine gave up the idea when a month later another nearby cellar caved in. They instead decided to build new cellars on Avenue de Champagne.

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B Rosen/Flickr

Tentative attempts over the years to find out if the wine, famous for being Winston Churchill’s favourite tipple, had survived and to get it back came to nothing.

But last month during building works for a packaging facility on the site of the  cellars, workers found a cavity while drilling.

"We found one bottle the first day, then five or six the next day," and then they had 26 in total, said d’Harcourt

But the hunt for more is now on hold due to recent heavy rains that make the ground above unstable for the moment.

The wine in the surviving, hand-blown bottles, is clear and the levels are correct, while the corks, held in place by metal staples, have survived the test of time.

"They’ll definitely be tasted, but we’re taking our time," said d’Harcourt.

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