, , , ,

Day 1 – Thomas Jefferson, A Primer
Day 2 – The First Wine of Record, Claret
Day 3 – Jefferson and Madeira
Day 4 – Jefferson’s Favorite Wines Available Today
Day 5 – Monticello Pictorial
Day 6 – Monticello Vineyards
Day 7 – The Monticello Cellar
Day 8 – Thomas Jefferson—Orchardist and Cidermaker (Part 1)
Day 9 – Quotable Jefferson
Day 10 – The Curious Philip Mazzei
Day 11 – Jefferson Vineyards
Day 12 – What Would Jefferson Think?
Day 13 – Thomas Jefferson—Cidermaker and Scientist-Farmer (Part 2)
Day 14 – Jefferson in Paris – A Pictorial of his Travels
Day 15 – Jefferson in Paris – Pictorial
Day 16 – Jefferson’s Wine Travels Through France and Italy
Day 17 – Jefferson’s Memorandum Notes on Journey Through France and Italy
Day 18 – Monticello Wine Festival
Day 19 – Jefferson in France, Thoughts on Bordeaux
Day 20 – Jefferson’s Paris Wine Cellar

Day 21 – Jefferson in Burgundy – Random Notes

Already three weeks in to this ‘30 Days of Jefferson on Wine‘ series – hard to believe.  At the risk of sounding cheesy and clichéd, the last 21 days have flown by.  Though one may not know it from reading this series over the last three weeks, I have personally learned a lot about Thomas Jefferson, wine, and the American and French revolutions while researching and writing these posts.

I truly appreciate the comments and all of the emails I’ve received from those following the series.  One of the more interesting exchanges related to Jefferson’s overall favorite wines.  After several back and forth emails on the subject, my new email friend (who I wish would post a comment in response to this post) noted Bordeaux was Jefferson’s favorite wine.  Perhaps d’Yquem, but I feel Burgundy was home to his favorite wines.

Supporting the argument that the wines of Bordeaux were Jefferson’s favorite, my friend noted the fact that Jefferson wrote more about Bordeaux wines that any other and ordered more Bordeaux wines than any other wine (excluding dessert wines) after he left Paris.  It is a fact that Jefferson wrote more about Bordeaux than any other, but the subject of his favorite wine is easily (and often) debated.

I feel Jefferson would have ordered more Burgundy but the shipping challenges inherent in 18th commerce inhibited his ability to get a hold of the great Burgundies on a regular basis.  My ‘opinion’ appears to be supported by several points made by John Hailman in ‘Thomas Jefferson on Wine:’

  • Burgundies were said not to have travelled well by 18th century mass transit (i.e. – a nice way of saying that wine was typically held in cask in a ships hold for the rough, hot voyage across the ocean).
  • Burgundy is much further inland than Bordeaux, thus harder to obtain.
  • There were no large proprietors and no American consul in Burgundy for Jefferson to rely on.  He had only his faithful cooper, Etienne Parent, who was little match for the Counts and Presidents at Bordeaux, not to mention Bordeaux’s advantage of having the son of George Mason in Bordeaux working for Jefferson’s main supplier.
  • Even to reach England, wines from Burgundy were transported to the Yonne River in one-horse carts that carried two casks (called pieces) that held the equivalent of 250 bottles each.  The wines were then sent by barge to Paris and then up the Seine River to Rouen for shipment to London.  In most cases, wine was lost to theft or spoilage.  Even attempts to prevent theft by putting the wines in double casks – casks packed in straw and sewn in canvas – failed. (Gabler, 68)

Given Jefferson’s occasional pragmatic tendencies, he didn’t order wines from Burgundy for obvious reasons.

Though he only stayed in Burgundy for a few days, Jefferson made copious notes on the region and noted, ‘the vines begin to yield good profit at 5 or 6 years old and last 100 to 150 years.‘  In contrast, today the vines of Burgundy do not last more than 40 to 50 years. When a vine became too old to produce enough grapes, a branch was curved and covered with soil and a new vine began to grown.  So a vineyard could last more than a century but in fact it was regularly revived.  Now a grafted vine cannot last more than 40 years.’ (Gabler, 62).

In the end, Jefferson considered Chambertin to be the best of the reds because they were the strongest and would hold up best during shipping.  Of the whites, Jefferson preferred Montrachet (who doesn’t?).

It is remarkable that the best of each kind that is, of the Red and White, is made at the extremities of the line, to wit, at Chambertin and Monrachet.  It is pretended that the adjoining vineyards produce the same qualities, but that, belonging to obscure individuals, they have not obtained a name, and therefore sell as other wines. (Hailman, 108)

Sign leading in to Chambertin. (from wikipedia)

The most notable learning experience from studying Jefferson’s trip through Burgundy is how much the area has changed.  In the 18th century, Burgundy was comprised of a few wealthy landownders.  Following the French Revolution (1789-1799), the larger properties were carved up into much smaller plots.  Today, in looking at a map of Burgundy, one can barely follow the patchwork of small plots and producers with many vineyards the size of a modest garden.

As with many posts in this series, an entire month of posts could be decidated to Jefferson’s few days in Burgundy.  For more thorough coverage of Jefferson in Burgundy (and Bordeaux), I highly recommend James Gabler’s book, ‘Passions: The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson’ and John Hailman’s book, ‘Thomas Jefferson on Wine.’  They both provide detailed treatment of Jefferson’s time in both regions and his associated notes.  Very well worth the read.

Thomas Jefferson on Wine, Hailman, John
Passions: The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson, Gabler, James


Questions, Comments, Complaints, Random Observations? Contact Me Here