Researchers Discover Two Preserved Bottles Of Wine Buried At Mount Vernon

[English: NPS Photo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

Archeologists working at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s historic home in Virginia, stumbled upon something entirely unexpected, the historic landmark revealed recently.

As part of a big project to renovate George Washington’s Mount Vernon mansion, funded by private money totaling $40 million, archaeologists found something extraordinary in the cellar: two bottles of wine from Europe that were still sealed with liquid inside. The bottles, made of dark green glass, resemble those from the 1740s to 1750s. They were found in a pit and were likely forgotten when they became buried beneath a brick floor laid in the 1770s.

The bottles will be available to the news media until April 30, 2024…After that date, the bottles will be sent for conservation and their contents will be shipped to a laboratory for scientific analysis and testing by specialists in a controlled environment, according to Mount Vernon.

“As we conduct a historic preservation effort at the iconic home of America’s first President and revolutionary hero, we have been deliberate and intentional about carefully excavating areas of potential disruption,” said Mount Vernon President & CEO Doug Bradburn. “Consequently, we have made a number of useful discoveries including this blockbuster find of two fully intact glass bottles containing liquid that have not been seen since before the war for American independence.” 

“As the bottles are shipped off for a complete scientific analysis, we want to share our findings and next steps for this historic archaeological and preservation initiative at Mount Vernon. This discovery comes at the beginning of an exciting and transformational project to strengthen and restore the home of the nation’s first president so that it will be stronger than ever when we celebrate America’s 250th birthday in 2026. This historic preservation project is our birthday gift to America,” Bradburn said. 

Mount Vernon Principal Archaeologist Jason Boroughs said, “This incredible discovery at Mount Vernon is a significant archaeological find. Not only did we recover intact, sealed bottles, but they contained organic material that can provide us with valuable insight and perspective into 18th-century lives at Mount Vernon. These bottles have the potential to enrich the historic narrative, and we’re excited to have the contents analyzed so we can share this discovery with fellow researchers and the visiting public.”

America’s first president loved wine and regularly imported Madeira when he was at home and on the front lines. Atlas Obscura writes that Washington’s “personal expense accounts in 1775 and 1776 detail countless purchases that would allow a privileged man like himself to remain comfortable as he superintended an increasingly anxious volunteer army: trunks, table linen, curtains, bedding, and, perhaps most important of all, copious amounts of wine.

On August 8, 1775, two months after taking charge of his army, Washington procured a large cask of the wine, as well as empty bottles, corks, and other paraphernalia. Over the next six months, he purchased hundreds of additional bottles and, eventually, an entire “pipe” (a term derived from the Portuguese word for barrel, “pipa”). A pipe of madeira held enough wine to fill 700 bottles, and a cask roughly the same. Washington, then, in preparation for war, ordered at least 1,900 bottles worth of the wine to be shared among his closest aides and confidants.

Mount Vernon announced that the bottles were removed and taken to a lab for study. “Upon consultation with archaeological conservators, it was determined that removing the liquid contents would help stabilize the glass, which had not been directly exposed to the atmosphere for approximately two centuries. Cherries, including stems and pits, were preserved within the liquid contents, which still bore the characteristic scent of cherry blossoms familiar to residents of the region during the spring season.”

They did not say if they tasted the 275-year-old wine inside.

There’s apparently a limit to “aging like fine wine.” 

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