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
Day 25 – President Jefferson and Wine, How Much Did Jefferson Spend On Wine?
Day 26 – President Jefferson, Wine Factoid
Day 27 – Wines Provided at Washington
Day 28 – Retirement, The Vintage Years
As with most posts in this series, one post cannot possibly provide adequate treatment of Jefferson’s wine experiences throughout his 17 year retirement at Monticello. Today’s post will present a few highlights and encourage you to conduct deeper study of Thomas Jefferson on Wine.
Never did a prisoner, released from his chains, feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power. Nature intended me for the tranquil pursuits of science, by rendering them my supreme delight. ~Th: Jefferson on leaving politics for the last time.
Although he was more than ready for retirement as the quote above clearly indicates, Jefferson did express concerns about being able to enjoy his retirement years because of his financial situation. Jefferson’s financial condition improved when he sold the bulk of his personal library to Congress for $23,950 in order to reconstitute the Library of Congress that was burned to the ground by the British in 1812. Much of this $23k was used to settle debts (some wine related) and to provide a cash infusion for expenses, including future wine expenditures.
Despite the dire status of his personal finances, Jefferson, by all accounts had a happy retirement filled with friends, books, letters, family and of course wine. His retirement wine cellar was well stocked, but without the great wines of Bordeaux, Champagne, and Burgundy that enjoyed in his more prosperous years as President. Replacing the great French wines he enjoyed during his years as President, were names like ‘Roussillon, Rivesaltes, Limous, Bellet of Nice, Ledanon, and Paillerols.’ (Hailman, 321)
Given the consequences of the War of 1812, Jefferson wrote no letters to import wines from 1812 to 1815. Instead, Jefferson turned his focus back to creating a wine industry in America. As noted in previous posts, Jefferson was nearly 200 years ahead of his time. Of interesting note, in 1813 Jefferson did try to obtain cork oak trees to plant at Monticello to make his own corks for bottling his wine. (Hailman, 324). The cork trees met with the same fate as the vineyards at Monticello – nada. It was during these ‘dark days’ of the war that Jefferson turned to apple cider and beer.
Never one to miss an opportunity to share his opinion (and expertise) on wine with fellow Statesmen, Jefferson provided detailed wine recommendations in 1817 to President James Monroe for his Presidential wine cellar.
Nearly two years after providing wine consulting to President Monroe, Jefferson took up a cause that was near and dear to him, saving money on taxes. This included lobbying then Secretary of State, William Crawford, to advocate the reduction of duties on wine. Jefferson wrote,
I think it a great error to consider a heavy tax on wines, as a tax on luxury. On the contrary it is a tax on the health of our citizens. It is a legislative declaration that none but the richest of them shall be permitted to drink wine, and in effect a condemnation of all the middling & lower conditions of society to the poison of whiskey… Whereas were the duties on the cheap wines proportioned to their first cost the whole middle class of this country could have the gratification of that milder stimulus…. I should therefore be for encouraging the use of wine by placing it among the articles of lightest duty.
Pardon my skepticism, but I do wonder if the primary drive behind Jefferson’s enthusiasm for lower duties was the fact that he no longer had a cushy, and sizeable Presidential annual salary of $25,000 and had to trade down on his wine consumption.
When he learned that Congress was considering a reduction on the duties on wine, Jefferson wrote to the French Ambassador,
I rejoice, as a moralist, at the prospect of a reduction of the duties on wine, by our national legislature. It is an error to view a tax on that liquor as merely a tax on the rich. It is a prohibition of its use to the middling class of our citizens, and a condemnation of them to the poison of whiskey, which is desolating their houses. No nation is drunken where wine is cheap; and non sober, where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage.
Old age did little to curb Jefferson’s enthusiasm for wine – according to Jim Gabler, Jefferson and his guests consumed 1,203 bottles of wine between January 1822 and February 1824. By my math, Jefferson and his wine peeps consumed about 48 bottles of wine per month, or roughly 1 1/2 bottles per day, seven days a week for just over two years. Interesting not so much because of the quantity of wine consumed, but because of the cost of 1,203 bottles of wine. (226)
Though he remained very active during his retirement years at Monticello, he did note the affects age was having on his senses in a letter to Abigail Adams, ‘To see what we have seen, to taste the tasted, and at each return, less tasteful; o’er our palates to decant, another vintage.‘
As noted at the beginning of this post, I cannot possibly do justice to Jefferson’s 17 years of retirement in this one post. Instead I’ve tried to present, albeit in patchwork fashion, several of the more notable wine facts of Jefferson’s retirement that I had not already covered in previous posts.
One cannot discuss the subject of Jefferson’s retirement, no matter what the context, without mentioning his two most important achievements after leaving the Presidency in 1809. The first being his reconciliation with old friend and fellow Revolutionary, John Adams. Raise a glass to Benjamin Rush for bringing these two Founding Fathers back together. Perhaps Jefferson’s most notable retirement accomplishment was the founding of the University of Virginia – one of the finest educational institutions in the United States. The University of Virginia opened on March 7, 1825.
Tomorrow, Day 29 – Jefferson and the Billionaire’s Vinegar
Day 30 – Final Thoughts, Jefferson’s Last Letter, The End
Thomas Jefferson on Wine, Hailman, John
Passions – The Wine and Travels of Thomas Jefferson, James Gable
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