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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
Day 22 – Germany and Champagne, Jefferson’s Route

Day 23 – Jefferson in Champagne

‘The sparkling are little drank in France but are alone known and drank in foreign countries.’ ~ Th:Jefferson, 1788

Though all Champagne today is sparkling, in the 18th century most Frenchman, and Jefferson himself, preferred the non-sparkling variety.  Demand outside of France favored sparkling Champagne, and because it sold for a higher price, the vintners made increasing amounts of it.

It’s important to note that in Jefferson’s time, the wines of the Champagne area were known by the names of villages where the grapes were grown, or at least where the wine was made.  Today Champagne wines are identified by the company or house, which sells them with variations for certain blends and vintages. (Hailman, 177)

Jefferson’s time in Champagne began in Épernay on April 22, 1788. Épernay is a touristy town just 88 miles northeast of Paris. Anyone who has been to Paris and inquired at a hotel Concierge desk about wine tours has no doubt received an Épernay brochure.

Taken directly from The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, from the original manuscripts, VOL IX   (made available via Google Books) – sums up Jefferson’s thoughts on the reds of the Champagne area:

The hills abound with chalk. … The hills are in vines, and this being precisely the canton where the most celebrated wines of Champagne are made.  Remember, however, that they will always relate to the white wines, unless where the red are expressly mentioned.  The reasons is that their red wines, though much esteemed on the spot, are by no means esteemed elsewhere equally with their white; nor do they merit equal esteem.

Jefferson made the following topographical sketch of the position of the wine villages, the course of the hills and the aspect of the vineyards.  As I’ve stated before, no level of detail is beyond Jefferson’s notice.

Jefferson's topographical sketch of Champagne, April 22, 1788. Taken from The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (via Google Books, 398).

The wine of Aij (Ay) is made from a to b, those of Dizij  from b to c, Auvillij (Hautvillers) d to e, Cumieres e to f, Epernay g to h, Perij i to k.  The hills are generally about two hundred and fifty feet high.  The good wine is made only in the middle region.  The lower region, however, is better than the upper; because this last is exposed to cold winds, and a colder atmosphere.

Jefferson’s notes on the making of sparkling or still wines in Champagne are particularly interesting given his take on making still wine from sparkling (The Writings of Thomas Jefferson via Google Books, 401).

To make still wines, they bottle in September. This is only done when they know from some circumstance that the wine will not be sparkling. So if the spring bottling fails to make a sparkling wine, they decant it into other bottles in the fall, and it then makes the very best still wine. In this operation, it loses from one-tenth to one-twentieth by sediment. They let it stand in the bottles in this case forty-eight hours, with only a napkin spread over their mouths, but no cork. The best sparkling wine, decanted in this manner, makes the best still wine, and which will keep much longer than that originally made still by being bottled in September.

Jefferson noted the wine of Monsieur D’Orsay as his favorite.   James Gabler notes that D’Orsay ‘makes more than all the other proprietors of the first quality put together.  It costs 3 livres the bottle when of the proper age to drink, which is at 5 years old.  The Red Champagne is not a fine wine.’ (Gabler, 184)

Though Jefferson only spent a few days in Champagne, he made comprehensive notes during his time there. Interestingly he wrote no letters to associates about his experiences in the area.

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

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