Three builders renovating a house belonging to Champagne Alexandre Bonnet in Les Riceys (which is owned by Champagne Lanson) got a surprise earlier this month – gold coins began raining down from between the joists in the ceiling, bouncing off their safety hats. On further investigation bags of coins were found hidden amongst the beams, each containing 50 gold coins. In all 497 gold coins were found – worth an estimated 700,000 euros. The treasure trove of gold coins weighs 17 kg and the coins were $20 (US dollars) coins minted between 1851 and 1928, which suggests that the treasure could date from the 1930s.
The house was being renovated to provide accommodation for grape pickers and Philippe Baijot, CEO of Alexander Bonnet has said the treasure could have been cash payments secreted away during the time of American prohibition:
“Maybe it is linked to exports to the U.S. under the prohibition, we can imagine that they were paid in cash due to the ban of the importation of wines and other alcoholic beverages.”
Alexandre Bonnet have owned the building since 1981 and the gold coins have been transferred to the vault of a bank. The Champagne House is considering naming its latest vintage “Hidden Treasure”.
The beneficiaries of the treasure would be the builders who discovered the coins and the property owner – Champagne Lanson.
The house is located at 2 Rue Saint-Claude and was apparently owned a company named Moussec prior to the 1960s. Apparently the company was one of the very first to make sparkling wines at Les Riceys (the village is famed for the rare still wine Rosé de Riceys) and was involved in sensational lawsuits between 1921 – 23 against the Marne, resulting in the company’s ruin.
A local historian has come up with an alternative explanation for the secret cache of gold coins. A certain M. Rivollier connected to the company is thought to have bought unsold grapes or grape must in Les Riceys, concentrated them down to a paste and exported them to England. The solidified paste would have avoided heavy taxes and customs duties normally payable on wine. The concentrate was then rehydrated in England, activated with yeasts from Rivollier’s Parisian laboratory and sold as sparkling wine on the English market.
Oddly enough I have heard tales that this practice continues today – I would be very interested if anyone could enlighten me further!