Wine Articles

Wine Articles --> Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson
Founding Father of American Wine

Thomas Jefferson has always been my favorite founding father. George Washington may have been the father of our country but it always looked to me like Thomas Jefferson was the brains behind the endeavor. During his amazing career he wrote the Declaration of Independence, served as the wartime Governor of Virginia, spent four years as minister to France, was Secretary of State, Vice President, served two terms as President and managed the Louisiana Purchase before founding the University of Virginia in his retirement. Quite a resume, but did you know that Thomas Jefferson also virtually introduced the French wines of Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley to the United States? Jefferson was a noted gourmet who developed a great love for and knowledge of wine during his four years as minister to France.

After his inauguration as the 3rd President of the United States, Jefferson introduced a French chef and French wines, that he personally selected, to the President's home. He imported olive oil from Italy and mustard from France, introduced vanilla and macaroni to the U.S. and owned the first ice cream freezer on record. His salary was $25,000 per year - a princely sum, but the expenses were also great. In 1801 Jefferson spent $6,500 for provisions and groceries, $2,700 for servants, and $3,000 for wine.

I managed to find a conversion chart at the Oregon State University web site and in 2013 dollars that means that Jefferson lived pretty well on a salary of $472,700! He paid his servants $51,500, spent $122,300 on groceries and buying $55,500 worth of wine!

Amid much acclaim, Thomas Jefferson was proclaimed America’s “first distinguished viticulturist,” and “the greatest patron of wine and wine growing in this country.” His wine expertise led to his being wine advisor to Presidents Washington, Adams, Madison and Monroe. He repeatedly tried to grow grapes at Monticello from the vine cuttings he brought back from France, but he was never successful at actually making wine. Unbeknownst to him, the yet undiscovered American root louse, Phylloxera, defeated his efforts.

Thomas Jefferson on wine:

"Wine from long habit has become an indispensable for my health."

"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."

"By making this wine vine known to the public, I have rendered my country as great a service as if I had enabled it to pay back the national debt."

"I think it is 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."

"Good wine is a necessity of life for me."

And finally, the prophetic...

“We could in the United States make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good.” --- Thomas Jefferson