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This Ten-Foot-Tall Bottle of Wine Seemed Like a Great Idea—Until It Started Leaking

Firefighters in Austria worked for three hours to prevent 1,590 liters of Zweigelt from flooding a local restaurant

A very sad before and after (Lustenau Fire Department)
smithsonianmag.com

To some, it might sound like a dream come true: a gargantuan bottle of red wine, suddenly pouring forth its boozy goodness. But for an Asian restaurant in Austria, the reality of this scenario wasn’t quite so pleasant. As Luke Fater reports for Atlas Obscura, the Engel Wang Fu eatery in the town of Lustenau was once home to what has been described as the “world’s largest glass bottle,” a nearly ten-feet tall vessel filled with 1,590 liters, or 420 gallons, of wine. But when the behemoth started leaking late last month, the restaurant had to call on an entire team of firefighters to manage the alcoholic flood.

The bottle, presented to Engel Wang Fu upon its reopening in 2017, was stored in a climate-controlled chamber in the middle of the dining room. A German manufacturing company took three years to fashion the bottle, which weighed nearly 1,700 pounds when empty, according to the Drinks Business. When pumped full of the Keringer winery’s award-winning “100 Days Zweigelt,” the bottle weighed more than two tons.

Sealed with a gold-plated cork and wax, the wine was left to mature while on display in the restaurant. The idea was to eventually auction the bottle off for charity, Robert Keringer, the winery’s owner, tells Atlas Obscura. But last month, that plan was, in so many words, shattered. Though the bottle was “designed to resist the hydrostatic pressure generated when it is completely filled,” a power failure appears to have shut off the cooler in the bottle’s special chamber, reports Collin Dreizen for Wine Spectator. This, in turn, caused the Zweigelt to warm and expand, pushing wine up over the cork.

Some 200 liters seeped over the top of the bottle and onto the floor. But the mess wasn’t firefighters’ only concern; after arriving on the scene, the team voiced fears that “the bottle could burst due to a suspected crack,” Jürgen Hämmerle of the Lustenau Fire Department tells Wine Spectator. In an effort to spare the restaurant from being inundated with a deluge of red wine, firefighters sandbagged the glass chamber and used an industrial drill to puncture the cork and pump the rest of the wine out.

The incident, says Keringer, was an “unusual application for the fire department!”

Other local institutions also rushed to help the restaurant: A dairy farm provided food-safe hoses for pumping the wine, for instance, while a cidery offered a large tank for holding the liquid.

Lest the connoisseurs among us despair, the rescue effort did manage to salvage 1,360 liters of Zweigelt. Barrels of the wine were sent to a laboratory for testing and ultimately deemed fit for consumption. The surviving liters were not returned to their enormous, leaky container, but siphoned off into smaller individual bottles. The plan, Keringer tells Wine Spectator, is to sell the wine by the glass at an event.

“From the beginning, the filled wine was intended as charity wine,” he says. “We would like to continue to stand by this promise.”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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