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
Day 24 – Jefferson, The Wine Consultant
‘We return like foreigners, and like them require a considerable residence here to become Americanized.’ ~ Th: Jefferson on returning to America after five years in France.
On September 26, 1789, after living in Paris for five years, Jefferson and his daughters departed for America. After weeks of weather delays, the Jefferson’s arrived in Norfolk, VA on November 23, 1789. Upon arriving in the port of Norfolk, they learned that President George Washington had proposed Jefferson for the position of Secretary of State.
I will resist the urge to turn this post in to a history lesson, and will stick to wine – although difficult because there is so much information to share about this time in Jefferson’s life as he would soon ascend to the Vice Presidency and then Presidency.
On February 14, 1790 Jefferson accepted his new appointment, and officially assumed the office of Secretary of State under President Washington on March 22, 1790. Sadly, Jefferson would never return to France.
The excerpt below from Jefferson to Philip Mazzei, summarizes Jefferson’s thoughts on his time as Secretary of State:
I am in an office of infinite labor, and as disagreeable to me as it is laborious. I came into it utterly against my will, and under the cogency of arguments derived from the novelty of the government, the necessity of it’s setting out well. But I pant after Monticello and my family, and cannot let it be long before I join them.
Though Jefferson was busy with official duties, he took on the role as wine consultant to President Washington during his tenure as Secretary of State. Jefferson provided guidance and expertise on wine related matters to the President and even placed orders for many his favorite French wines for the President’s cellar.
Although the role of Secretary of State was disagreeable to Jefferson, it was during this time that penned his longest outline of the wines he preferred. In November 1791, Philadelphia wine merchant, Henry Sheaff, asked for Jefferson’s thoughts on his favorite wines. Can you imagine a more perfect letter to a true oenophile?
Jefferson’s note to Henry Sheaff is quite lengthy, but I’ve excerpted a few parts that I found most interesting:
Lisbon wines. The bets quality of the dry kind is called Termo, and costs 79 Dollars the pipe at about 2 years old. At 5 years old it is becoming a find wine; at 7 years old it is preferable to any but the very best Madeira. Bulkley and son furnish it from Lisbon.
The following facts are from my own enquiries in going thro’ the different wine cantons of France, examining the identical vineyards producing the first quality of wines, conversing with their owners, and other persons on the spot minutely acquainted with the vineyards, and the wines made on them, and tasting them myself.
Burgundy. The best wines of Burgundy are Montrachet, a white wine. It is made but by two persons, to wit Monsieur de Clermont, and Monsieur de Sarsnet. The latter rents to Monsieur de la Tour. This costs 48 sous the bottle, new, and 3 livres when fit for drinking.
Champagne. The Mousseux or Sparkling Champagne is never brought to a good table in France. The still, or non-mousseux, is alone drunk by connoisseurs.
The wines of Burgundy and Champagne being made at the head of the Seine, are brought down that river to Havre from whence they are shipped. They should come down in the month of November so that they may be brought over sea in the winter and arrive here before our warm Spring days. They should be bottled on the spot where they are made. The bottle, bottling, corking, and packing costs 5 sous a bottle. Capt. Cutting, Consul of the U.S. at Havre is a good person and well informed to supply the wines of Burgundy and Champagne.
Sauterne. This is the best white wine of France (except Champagne and Hermitage) the best of it is made by Monsieur de Lur-Salus, and costs at 4 years old (when fit to drink) from 20 to 24 sous the bottle. There are two other white wines made in the same neighborhood called Prignac and Barsac, esteemed by some. But the Sauterne is that preferred at Paris and much the best in my judgment. They cost the same. A great advantage of the Sauterne is that it becomes higher flavored the day after the bottle has been opened, than it is at first.
Hermitage. This is made at Tains on the Rhone. The red is not very highly esteemed, but the White is the first wine in the world without a single exception. There is so little of the White made that it is difficult to buy it unless you will buy two of three times the quantity of red at the same time. The white improves fastest in a hot situation, and must be 4 years old before it is drank. It then costs, when it can be bought 3 livres the bottle.
As I’ve noted several times in this series, no level of detail was beyond Jefferson’s interest. The notes above illustrate his depth of his intellectual capacity – the aforementioned is a short excerpt on his thoughts on wine all the while he was performing ‘official’ duties as the Minister to France. Jefferson’s entire letter to Sheaff can be found in Jefferson’s Letters, Vol 27 – very well worth the read. Jefferson’s letter to Henry Sheaff, can also be read online via Google Books here.
Tomorrow, we begin the exploration of wine at Jefferson’s White House…
Sources – both excellent books below contain Jefferson’s letter to Henry Sheaff:
Thomas Jefferson on Wine, Hailman, John
Passions: The Wine and Travels of Thomas Jefferson, Gabler, James
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