Booze From Great Lakes Shipwreck Finds Buyers 75 Years Later
CHICAGO (AP) _ How much would you pay for scotch and champagne that had been aging undisturbed for 75 years in dark, cold storage - in a shipwreck at the bottom of Lake Huron?
At a rare wine auction this past weekend, people bid up to $90 a bottle for scotch and champagne recovered from the wreck of the SS Regina, one of 19 ships that sank in the Great Lakes in the great storm of November 1913.
″It’s a novelty, my father is a scotch drinker,″ said Susie Shaw of Chicago, who paid $180 for three bottles of Whyte & Mackay Scotch Whisky intended as a Father’s Day present.
″I don’t drink, but some of my divers tried some samples which were in very good condition despite being underwater for 75 years,″ said commercial diver Wayne Brusate, who discovered the wreck in July 1986 while searching for a tugboat that sank in the late 1960s.
About 300 bottles of French champagne and Scotch whisky have been salvaged from the Regina, a 249-foot Canadian freighter that served the coastal towns of Lake Huron with packaged goods until it went down in 80 feet of water with all 27 crewmembers on Nov. 9, 1913.
Several thousand more bottles still rest in the wreck roughly 3 1/2 miles offshore from Port Sanilac, about 80 miles northeast of Detroit, Brusate said.
″Most freighters on the Great Lakes carried coal, iron ore and tons of wheat, but this was like a general store,″ said Brusate, of Marysville, Mich.
The 60 bottles sold Saturday by Christie’s auctioneers brought a total of $3,460, said Michael Davis, vice-president of Christie’s wine division. Among wines that did not come from the ship, the highest price at the auction was $1,600 for a 1875 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. About 100 people attended.
Deanna Chan, president of Freedom Marine Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia, the Regina’s salvagers, said she was a bit disappointed the bids weren’t higher.
″It’s a piece of our history, a collector’s item,″ she said.
A wine collector, Dr. Steven Pritikin of Bridgeview, Ill., bought six bottles each of the Regina’s champagne and Scotch.
″We’ll store some and drink some,″ said Pritikin. ″We sampled some of the champagne and it was quite good. ... The constant, cool temperatures helped preserve it.″
Brent Albrecht, a representative of Clicquot Inc. U.S.A., bid $85 for a bottle of 1906-1908 vintage Veuve Clicquot for the champagne company’s museum in Reims, France.
Other items salvaged from the Regina have been auction to help finance further salvage operations, which are to resume next month, Brusate said.
He estimated that only about 10 percent of the ship’s cargo has been recovered so far.
The search will concentrate on finding the ship’s safe, which reportedly contained $86,000 in gold coins, worth at least $2 million at current bullion prices, Ms. Chan said. The gold was believed to have been the payroll for workers building the Sault Ste. Marie locks between lakes Superior and Huron.