Champagne house Pol Roger have unearthed an extraordinary treasure while laying the foundations for a new building: 20 bottles of their finest bubbly dating back to the 19th century. Laura Seal of Decanter reports.
Almost 118 years ago, on 23 February 1900, disaster struck Pol Roger’s cellars in Épernay.
Following a period of extreme cold and damp, vast stretches of wall suddenly collapsed during the night, demolishing adjoining buildings and burying 1.5 million bottles of wine, along with 500 casks.
Damage was so extensive that the ground above the cellars caved in, causing the street level to fall by four metres. Great fissures formed in the nearby roads, rue Henri le Large and rue Godart-Roger.
An account from Le Vigneron Champenois tells how Pol Roger’s son Maurice awoke at 2am to ‘a dull rumble similar to the sound of thunder’.
‘When the workers arrived a few hours later, the disaster was complete.’
Pol Roger’s sons, Maurice and Georges, had hoped they could attempt to salvage the buried wines by tunnelling into the rubble.
But after a similar cave-in occurred a month later at the nearby property of Godart-Roger, the plans were abandoned, along with the ruined cellars.
Fast forward almost 118 years exactly and Pol Roger is now rebuilding a new packaging facility on the same plot of land.
On 15 January, a drilling session hit upon an underground chamber, which contained a cache of broken glass and an intact bottle of Champagne.
After further excavation, 19 more bottles were lifted unscathed from the wreckage.
‘The wines are clear, the levels are correct and the corks are depressed,’ said the Champagne house.
‘These bottles are still on their lees and will have to be hand riddled and disgorged before being tasted.’
The exact age of the bottles is hard to determine, but Pol Roger has confirmed they will be of vintages between 1887 and 1898.
The discovery was made by Dominic Petit, Pol Roger’s chef de cave of 19 years, and the man who will succeed him in April, Damien Cambres.
Wet weather has prevented Petit and Cambres from unearthing more of the cellars’ contents so far.
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