THOMAS JEFFERSON – AMERICA’S FIRST WINE GEEK
The dictionary defines an oenophile as one who has a fondness and appreciation of wine. To most non-oenophiles it’s more like being a wine geek who has a tendency to bore dinner companions with TMI (too much information). If I am guilty of this discretion I’d like to point out that I am in good company as Thomas Jefferson, one of our Founding Fathers, was an early offender. John Quincy Adams, our 6th President, commented on a dinner he attended hosted by Jefferson, “there was, as usual, a dissertation upon wines; not very edifying.” This was a much nicer way of saying the words I often hear as I ramble on about wines, “Yo Dude, who really cares?”
To say that Thomas Jefferson enjoyed wine would be an understatement. The time he spent in France as our American representative at the Court of Louis XVI from 1784 to 1790 gave him an opportunity to sample and learn about all of the great French wines. In 1787 he embarked on an extensive tour of Bordeaux and Burgundy, venturing into the great wine growing areas of Germany and Italy. He developed a taste for the very best and grew fond of many of the best wines of then and now, the Lafittes. the Margaux, the Haut Brions and the sweet elixir of the Gods, the Chateau d Y’quem. He had cases of his favorites shipped back to Washington.
When Jefferson became President he spent much of his annual salary on the purchase of fine wines. He insisted on buying directly from the chateaus and not using the customary “negotiant” or middleman who at the time engaged in the practice of substituting lesser wines for the “first growths” that were ordered. Jefferson not only enjoyed the taste of the wines but was an ardent believer in the health aspects of wine. Several quotes on the subject of his passion for the grape are on record.
“Good wine is a necessity of life for me.”
“Wine from long habit has become an indispensable for my health.”
Jefferson lived to the, remarkable for his time, age of 83 and there is little doubt he felt that wine played a key role in his longevity.
“I have lived temperately . . . I double the doctor’s recommendation
of a glass and a half of wine a day and even treble it with a friend.”
As a fellow wine-geek it is comforting to know that a man who was so instrumental in the early development of our nation probably had a nice glass of Bordeaux by his side each night as he penned the words to our Declaration of Independence.
For a more studied and intense view of Jefferson and his wines I would recommend “Thomas Jefferson on Wine” by John Hailman or “Passion: The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson” by James M. Gabler. If you are more inclined to just enjoy an interesting story of mystery and intrigue concerning Jefferson and wine I highly recommend Benjamin Wallace’s “The Billionaire’s Vinegar”.