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30 Days of Thomas Jefferson on Wine – Day 1

“No nation is drunken where wine is cheap, and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage” ~ Thomas Jefferson

Today marks day one of the ’30 Days of Jefferson on Wine’ series, beginning an exciting educational journey intended to explore and share the wine experiences of Thomas Jefferson, The Great Enigma.

I am not a Jefferson scholar and this 30-day series could not possibly provide complete coverage of Jefferson’s full range of wine experiences and exhaustive notes on the subject.  I’ll leave the in-depth analysis and reporting to historians and authors who have spent many years of their lives studying the amazing life of our nations first oenophile.

Also of note – the events of Jefferson’s political and personal life not directly related to wine are outside the scope of this series (although they intersect throughout his life).  This is not intended to minimize his personal and financial failings or the fact that he is guilty of crimes against humanity by ‘owning‘ other human beings.

As part of this series over the next 29 days, I will present and explore a broad range of topics related to Jefferson and wine.  Some topics will be explored in great detail, while others will receive just a cursory introduction.  A few of these topics include:

  • Jefferson’s first wine of record
  • Misconceptions of wine at Monticello
  • Trials and tribulations of growing grapes in early Virginia
  • Jefferson’s favorite wines – evolution of his tastes
  • Jefferson’s table drink – beer and cider
  • Wine influence on other Founding Fathers
  • The curious Philip Mazzei
  • The Monticello Wine Company formed by Jefferson, Washington and Mazzei
  • A detailed look at Jefferson’s five years in Paris (1784–1789)
  • Time in Champagne (Eperney), Italy and Germany
  • Wine and the Presidential years
  • Champagne Diplomacy
  • Modern day Jefferson wine and the Billionaire’s Vinegar
  • … and other Jefferson wine facts

Much of the information presented in this series comes from the following books, films, and meetings:

Although the intent of this series is not to provide a high school American History refresher, I feel it’s important to begin by highlighted a few of Jefferson’s notable milestones and facts to level-set everyone:

  • Thomas Jefferson, 1743 – 1826
  • Principal author of the Declaration of Independence
  • Thomas Jefferson died on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence
  • Member of Congress
  • Governor of Virginia, 1779–1781
  • US Minister to France, 1785–1789
  • Secretary of State under George Washington, 1790–1793
  • Second Vice-President of the United States, 1797–1801
  • Third President of the United States, 1801–1809
  • Most notable oenophile of the revolutionary period
  • Founder of the University of Virginia (only university founded by a U.S. President)
  • Jefferson’s portrait appears on the US nickel, Presidential $1 coin, and on the $2 bill
  • Architect, inventor, lawyer, musician, among other things

Jefferson was a complex man with a curiosity that seemed to span an infinite number of subjects.  Given his wide range of interests, it’s amazing he was able to devote so much time to the study of wine.  Jefferson kept meticulous records of his wine purchases, contents of his cellar and thoughts on wine that provided a remarkable account of how his wine tastes evolved throughout his life.  His notes and wine preferences are curiously modern.

In his early years, Jefferson’s collection consisted primarily of Madeira, Port and Claret, whereas he favored the wines of Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy as he matured and ‘experienced’ the world, beginning with his appointment in France. In his later years, Jefferson’s cellar reflected his modest economic condition.

French wine bottle seals and placard at Monticello. (photo taken August 14, 2010)

A major focus of this series will be to explore how Jefferson’s tastes evolved throughout his amazing life… I hope you will join me for the next 29 days!

Tomorrow – Day 2:  Jefferson’s first wine of record…

Monticello (August 2010)


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