Supercentenarians Surviving COVID Pandemic Celebrate Long Lives with Wine

In France, Sister André celebrates her 117th birthday with foie gras, Port and Champagne, while in South Carolina, 111-year-old Maria Aulenbacher drinks red wine and beer

Supercentenarians Surviving COVID Pandemic Celebrate Long Lives with Wine
Sister André prays before celebrating her 117th birthday. (Nicolas Tucat)
Feb 23, 2021

Last year, a study out of the Netherlands found that women and men who drank one alcoholic beverage a day were more likely to reach age 90 than abstainers or heavy drinkers, adding to existing evidence linking moderate wine consumption with greater life expectancy.

Cases in point: France’s 117-year-old Sister André and South Carolina’s 111-year-old Maria Aulenbacher.

The oldest living European, Sister André survived COVID-19 in January and celebrated her 117th birthday earlier this month with a wine-and-food pairing that proves you're never too old to enjoy the good things in life. (If, indeed, any proof were necessary.)

Her vision and hearing aren't quite what they once were, but her wit and her palate are still going strong. Sister André's birthday menu began with a foie gras starter served with Port, followed by a roast capon and cèpe mushrooms. "All of it washed down with red wine," said David Tavella, communications manager at the Ste. Catherine Labouré nursing home in Toulon, France, where Sister André has lived for the past dozen years. "It's one of her secrets of longevity."

To finish the meal—after a restorative nap—Sister André enjoyed her favorite dessert, a baked Alaska served with a glass of Champagne.

"She's used to a certain lifestyle from when she lived with the Peugeot family," explained Tavella of the former governess. "She has rarefied tastes."

Sister André tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-January when the virus swept through her nursing home; 81 of the 88 residents fell ill, and 11 died. Sister André survived a fairly mild case. "I had no idea. I was tired, it's true, but no more than usual," said Sister André.

But the weeks of isolation in her room without visitors were hard, particularly as she worried for others. Her message for people struggling with isolation and the pandemic: "Be patient, be kind and encourage others."

Born Lucile Randon in 1904, Sister André has survived COVID, the Spanish flu pandemic and both World Wars. In 1945, at age 41, she entered the Parisian convent of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.

She went to work in a hospital in Vichy for orphans, staying there for 28 years. Her long life has seen many innovations. One of her fondest memories—coming second to the return of her two elder brothers from the front during WWI—was an impetuous first airplane ride in 1926. "I was at Orly airport and an aviator said to me, 'Don't you want to see what a plane does?'" So she climbed in and "off we went!"

Across the Atlantic, near the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina, 111-year-old Maria Aulenbacher just celebrated her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine with a glass of red wine.

Aulenbacher, a native of Germany, moved to South Carolina to live with her daughter's family shortly after turning 100 years old. In addition to family, an active life, reading nonfiction and napping, Aulenbacher credits her longevity to leading a "normal" lifestyle. "I drink wine. I drink beer. I eat what I like." Typically, it's red wine at lunch and beer with dinner.

She recently became one of the oldest people in the world to be vaccinated against COVID-19. “I’m just happy to have this opportunity to help keep healthy and keep everyone around me healthy,” said Aulenbacher in a statement. “I can’t wait until I can hug my great-grandson again. I look forward to our family safely all being together.”

Aulenbacher said she'd like to live as long as "that Methuselah man," a biblical figure who lived to age 969 and was the namesake for those not-quite-as-long-aging giant 6-liter wine bottles.


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