The winemaker will attempt to salvage bottles of bubbly buried in a 1900 cellar collapse.

By Mike Pomranz
May 08, 2019
FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/Getty Images

From exploring the surface of Mars to, uh, making cocktails, robots have tackled all sorts of amazing feats. But the Champagne house Pol Roger is reportedly planning to utilize a robot for one the noblest causes yet: salvaging lost bubbly from more-than-a-century-old vintages.

On February 23, 1900, Pol Roger’s massive cellar in Epernay collapsed due to extreme rain, burying and/or destroying about 1.5 million bottles of Champagne as well as hundreds of casks. Salvaging attempts at the time were eventually deemed futile, and the cellar has remained abandoned for over a century. However, with the benefits of modern knowledge and technology, Pol Roger has decided to build a new packaging facility on this land. In a stroke of good fortune, initial work on the site uncovered intact bottles of wine, and further investigations have revealed more are likely hidden underground.

“One year ago, we found 26 bottles, but then we stopped everything because it was becoming dangerous, but we know that 1 to 1.5 million bottles disappeared, so we want to find the right way to find more,” Laurent d’Harcourt, president of the Pol Roger, told The Drinks Business. He said that the house has been speaking to specialists about how to safely proceed, and apparently, the best way to prevent anyone from getting hurt is to send down someone who isn’t a person at all. “We need to find a way so there is no human risk,” he continued, “so we will be making a tunnel, with protection, and then sending in a robot.”

Just what this robot could expect to find is uncertain. But the bottles found in 2018 were apparently in excellent shape. “The wine is perfectly clear inside,” cellar master Dominique Petit said at the time. “The level is correct and the cork is depressed, which suggests that the wine is well preserved.” Days earlier, The Drinks Business reported that d’Harcourt told them, “There could be Champagnes from the 1870s, 80s or 90s, but they weren’t ageing the wines so long then, so the Champagnes are probably from the few years before the end of the century, so there could be wine from the 1898 vintage, or 1892 [a legendary vintage] – which would be even better.”

That’s another benefit of using a robot: It won’t be able to secretly drink any of the wines either.

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