July 11 (UPI) -- A museum at a New Jersey university knocked down a Prohibition-era wall and made a shocking a discovery -- a stash of wine bottles up to 221 years old.
Officials at the Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University in Union said they knew there was a wine cellar behind the wall, but they had no idea of what they would find when they tore down the plywood and plaster wall as part of a renovation project.
The officials said they found three unopened wooden boxes that contained more than 50 bottles of Madeira wine.
"When taking the wine cellar apart, which is first time it's been done maybe in 100 years, and going to open the crates -- one of the crates had Madeira wine from 1796," Bill Schroh, director of the Liberty Hall Museum, told CBS New York.
"It was an 'oh my god' moment," he said.
Museum President John Kean agreed the discovery was a shock.
"We had no idea the old bottles were there," Kean told CNN. "We knew there would be wine, but had no idea as to the date. That was a major surprise."
The officials said workers also discovered 42 demijohns, large glass vats often used for transportation, filled with wine in the cellar and the museum's attic.
They said it was common to store Madeira wine in attics because it calls for warm temperatures in storage.
The museum said the labels on the bottles indicate the wine was imported from Portugal and rebottled by Robert Lenox, a millionaire wine importer from New York who died in 1839. Mannie Berk, president and founder of Rare Wine Co., said Lenox's sealed and stamped bottles could be worth up to $20,000 each.
Experts said the wine in the sealed bottles could still be drinkable.
"It is one of the longest-lived wines in the world," said Kara Joseph, a certified sommelier at New York Vintners in New York. "It is almost indestructible because of how they make it, of the fermentation process."