Thomas Jefferson

Virginia Wine Evening with the President

Our Founding Father President Washington and his wife Martha opened their lovely Mount Vernon Estate this weekend for their annual Spring Wine Festival & Sunset Tour. Friday night was the perfect evening for a celebration of Virginia wine with a fruit and cheese picnic overlooking the Potomac River.

President Washington opened the evening from the piazza with a toast to what has been 200+ years in the making in our home state of Virginia, the burgeoning wine industry, now over 200 wineries strong. Seventeen wineries were on hand under the big tent to pour for the crowd…AmRhein Wine Cellars, Barboursville Winery, Barrel Oak Winery, Chester Gap Cellars, DelFosse Winery, Desert Rose Winery, Fabbioli Cellars, Fox Meadow Winery, Gray Ghost Vineyards, Hiddencroft Vineyards, Horton Vineyards, James River Cellars, Philip Carter Winery, Prince Michel Winery, Rockbridge Vineyard, Veritas Vineyard & Winery and Wintergreen Winery.

Guests also had the chance to see Washington’s rarely open basement and root cellar where wine was stored (not quite as impressive as Thomas Jefferson’s 😉 ).

I sipped some of my favorites as we hung out on the lawn for the evening…Veritas Winery Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc, Horton Vineyards Sparkling Viognier (Virginia’s official grape) and even had a chance to taste Barboursville Vineyards new 2011 Vermentino!

Fun new wine discovery of the evening was the only one-year old Desert Rose Ranch & Winery attending their first Virginia tasting event with a few of their wines like Hitch Hollow 2010 and Ole Moo Moo 2010. Very promising wines! And the folks couldn’t be nicer. They grew up on a large cattle ranch in the high desert country of Eastern Oregon where homemade wine making was part of their family tradition. I really look forward to getting down to Hume to visit them.

Cheers to wonderful Virginia wine evening with old and new friends!

A Look Inside Thomas Jefferson’s Wine Cellar

It was a hot July evening at Monticello and people looking for cool shelter were told to check out the wine cellar in the passageway under the house. When they did, Wine Blogger Conference attendees stepped into Thomas Jefferson’s now fully restored wine cellar and got a glimpse into the important role wine played in his life.

Jefferson, in addition to being third President of the U.S., is often called America’s First Wine Connoisseur. His appreciation and knowledge of wine grew greatly serving as Minister to France in Paris, 1784-1789, where he was able to tour wine regions of Germany, France and Italy. Upon his return to the U.S., he began his prized wine cellar; served as wine advisor for Presidents Washington, Madison and Monroe; and in 1807, planted grapes at Monticello with hopes of his home state producing wines that rivaled those of Old World Europe.

Prior to the cellar restoration, you could only peer into the room from behind iron bars. Now thanks to Justin Sarafin, Assistant Curator and Project Coordinator at Monticello, and the restoration team’s great work, you can step onto a raised platform in the cellar to take it all in. Jefferson letters and an archaeological dig under the very spot provided insights and artifacts into his wine consumption. The restored cellar tells you that story.

  • Wine Consumption: Monticello consumed 400 bottles per year. Wine was served in the formal English manner, following dessert after the table cloth was removed (vs. French manner where wine is served throughout the meal). They used glass decanters, silver and wood wine coasters and a seau crenelé for chilling and rinsing glasses. The cellar is just below the Dining Room and the dumbwaiter carried the wine straight up for serving. One of the two dumbwaiters is now restored to working condition.
  • Wine Shipments: Jefferson’s good taste included wines of the great French château, Château Margaux, Château Latour, Château Haut-Brion and Château Lafite. Once back in the U.S., Jefferson would write directly to the vineyards to acquire the wine to ensure their quality. At the time, wine dilution and blending once wines left the vineyard happened often. Wooden crates on display in the cellar show you how Jefferson would receive his shipments.
  • Wine Storage:  Excavation did not expose any remnants of wall attached wine racks so it’s thought the cellar used freestanding racks (similar to those now on display). The cellar also features the house’s only original double-thickness door. The door and iron bars over the window shows the importance of his collection.

While Jefferson’s dreams for Virginia wine were not realized in his lifetime, his love of wine can be felt and seen at Monticello and across Virginia and the now vibrant winescape of the Monticello Wine Trail.

* Special thanks to Monticello and Justin Sarafin for the reception and insight into the Wine Cellar. Photo credits: Monticello, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., photograph by Philip Beaurline.

Happy 268th Birthday Thomas Jefferson!

Why not celebrate with a glass of wine from the site of his original vineyards?

In addition to being a founding father of the United States, Jefferson is also known as America’s First Wine Connoisseur. As U.S. Ambassador to France living in Paris, he toured vineyards across France, Italy and Germany. He loved the now world renown Château Haut-Brion, Lafite and Margaux.

Back home in Virginia, Jefferson envisioned his home state of Virginia producing wines that rivaled those of the Old World. In 1774 with the help of his Italian viticulturist Filippo Mazzei, he tried for over 30 years to grow vines at Monticello but disease kept any wine from ever being produced. Today this site is home to Jefferson Vineyards.

Jefferson Vineyards replanted Jefferson’s original site in 1981 and since have been producing fine wines. You’ll recognize the bottle as they are the only winery in the world able to use Thomas Jefferson’s signature on their bottles.

Today they produce award-winning Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riseling, Viongnier, Merlot, Cabernet France and Cabernet Sauvignon. Recently at the Virginia Wine Expo, my favorites were their Chardonnay Reserve ’09 (a nice crisp fruit forward wine) and Merlot ’08 (one of the few estate grown and bottled, medium bodied, like velvety chocolate covered cherries; 20% American Oak and 80% stainless steel aged). Perfect for TJ’s birthday.

Jefferson would be proud!