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Thomas Jefferson on Wine

Thomas Jefferson on Wine

John Hailman
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 457
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  • Book Info
    Thomas Jefferson on Wine
    Book Description:

    InThomas Jefferson on Wine, John Hailman celebrates a founding father's lifelong interest in wine and provides unprecedented insight into Jefferson's character from this unique perspective. In both his personal and public lives, Jefferson wielded his considerable expertise to influence the drinking habits of his friends, other founding fathers, and the American public away from hard liquor toward the healthier pleasures of wine.

    An international wine judge and nationally syndicated wine columnist, Hailman discusses how Jefferson's tastes developed, which wines and foods he preferred at different stages of his life, and how Jefferson became the greatest wine expert of the early American republic. Hailman explores the third president's fascination with scores of wines from his student days at Williamsburg to his lengthy retirement years at Monticello, often using Jefferson's own words from hundreds of immensely readable and surprisingly modern letters on the subject. A new epilogue covers the ongoing saga of the alleged wine swindle involving bottles of Bordeaux purported to belong to Jefferson.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-138-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Preface
    (pp. IX-XII)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XIII-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-27)

    In his approach to wine, Jefferson seems remarkably modern in the breadth of his tastes. He liked the red and the white, the dry and the sweet. He epitomized his own searching and mentally adventurous age in his incessant experiments with every available variety, his constant seeking of new sensations and knowledge. He expressed a preference for French wines, especially certain Burgundies, Bordeaux, Champagnes, and Rhônes, and often insisted on particular vintages. He also cellared, drank, and praised some wine of just about every other winemaking country at one time or another, especially Italy, Spain, and Portugal.

    Jefferson’s letters about...

  6. Chapter One Early Wines
    (pp. 28-66)

    To understand the complex and enigmatic Thomas Jefferson, especially in his role as a connoisseur of wines, it is helpful to picture him in his own setting.¹ He was born in 1743 at Shadwell, his father’s plantation at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville. The area was then a wild, “silent country of far-flung patriarchal seats.” When Jefferson was only two, his family moved to Tuckahoe, the home of his mother, farther east near Richmond.

    Jefferson’s mother was a Randolph, one of the most powerful and socially prominent families of Virginia’s coastal, or Tidewater, aristocracy. His early...

  7. Chapter Two Thomas Jefferson Goes to Paris (1784–1787)
    (pp. 67-119)

    On July 5, 1784, Jefferson set sail from Cape Cod with his daughter Martha, then almost twelve. The voyage to England took only nineteen days over a sea “calm as a river” as Martha later described it. There were only six passengers aboard, and Jefferson brought along four dozen bottles of “Hock,” or Rhine wine, he had just bought. En route he amused himself by readingDon Quixotewith a Spanish dictionary.¹ He never mentioned why he was not practicing French or drinking French wines on his way to France, but Jefferson was never conventional. He had long wanted to...

  8. Chapter Three Jefferson Stocks His Paris Wine Cellar (1787–1788)
    (pp. 120-161)

    Once back in Paris, Jefferson reflected on his journey, writing to acquaintances of all ages and conditions, trying to digest what he had seen. The most important and pleasurable trip he ever took, it also gave him mixed emotions about travel. As he wrote his nephew Peter Carr:

    Travelling makes men wiser, but less happy. When men of sober age travel, they gather knowledge, which they may apply usefully for their country; but they are subject ever after to recollections mixed with regret; their affections are weakened by being extended over more objects; and they learn new habits which cannot...

  9. Chapter Four Jefferson Tours and Tastes in the Vineyards of the Rhine, the Mosel, and Champagne (1788–1789)
    (pp. 162-199)

    Jefferson’s interests in Paris were not confined to French wines and cuisine. German wines, those he had chosen to drink on his sea voyage over to France, were not far away. And he had friends in the German wine country. Among his favorite people during the American Revolution were his supposed enemies, the Hessian mercenaries hired by George III to suppress his rebellious colonists. Some Hessians taken prisoner early in the war had been interned by Governor Patrick Henry near Charlottesville at Jefferson’s request. One group, under General Riedesel and his aide-de-camp Baron Geismar, a major, stayed at Colle, Philip...

  10. Chapter Five The Return to America (1789–1800)
    (pp. 200-254)

    On November 23, 1789, the Jeffersons landed safely in Norfolk. Their voyage was uneventful until they reached port, where a storm tore off the ship’s topsails and a fire aboard ship damaged cargo, but none of Jefferson’s wines. Upon arrival, they learned that Washington had proposed Jefferson to be secretary of state. The new position combined the duties of secretary of foreign affairs, which Jay had held, with domestic concerns, including everything from issuing patents to publishing acts of Congress in the newspapers as required by law.

    Jefferson and his daughters first visited the Eppes family at Eppington, receiving there...

  11. Chapter Six Wine in the President’s House (1801–1809)
    (pp. 255-319)

    Thomas Jefferson was president for eight years, his two four-year terms running from March 4, 1801, through March 4, 1809. The White House, then called merely the President’s House, has never seen as many good wines since. While paid only $25,000 a year for salary and all expenses, Jefferson spent an average of $3,200 a yearjust on wineduring his first term, and well over $16,500 during his two terms. Interestingly, his spending dropped dramatically after he was reelected—to only $1,000 in 1805, and to just over $200 during 1808, his last full year in office.

    In addition...

  12. Chapter Seven Retirement at Monticello (1809–1826)
    (pp. 320-370)

    Throughout the seventeen years of his retirement, Jefferson found comfort in old friendships and old wines. Among the highlights was a resumption of his correspondence with John and Abigail Adams, to whom he wrote wistfully that old age was sometimes to “taste the tasted . . . o’er our palates to decant another vintage.”³

    Later there was a lengthy visit from Lafayette, during which so much wine was drunk that Jefferson’s wine cellar was nearly empty when Lafayette left. Much of his time and energy went into founding the University of Virginia. During Lafayette’s visit in 1824, a great dinner...

  13. Chapter Eight Vineyards at Monticello (1770–1826)
    (pp. 371-396)

    Throughout his long life, Thomas Jefferson tried to make wine from his own grapevines. An avid gardener, he planted and studied the progress of hundreds of plants of every kind, including dozens of species of wine-grape vines. His massiveGarden Bookshows the magnitude of this favorite hobby and how fervently he pursued it. Yet he was modest about his knowledge, admitting in one of his most famous quotes: “Though an old man, I am but a young gardener.”²

    Jefferson was unsuccessful as a farmer, apparently never making a profit from any of his plantations. It was much the same...

  14. Epilogue The Latest Jefferson Controversy: The Mysterious Case of Bordeaux
    (pp. 397-404)

    The last thing one would have imagined about Jefferson is a controversy over his wines. For nearly two centuries, including the Prohibition era, the only possible controversy about Jefferson and wine was the fact that he was not a teetotaler, as Founding Fathers were sort of expected to be. Even as his love of wine came to light, however, his insistence on sobriety and moderation, and his frequent denunciations of whisky and strong spirits, supported his positive image more or less without controversy.

    Then, in 1985, wealthy German wine collector Hardy Rodenstock announced that he had purchased, from a source...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 405-430)
  16. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 431-438)
  17. Index
    (pp. 439-457)