The third president of the United States loved wine so much he reportedly spent $10,000 on it during his administration. He kept his collection in a deep pit adjacent to the President’s House (currently known as the White House). There, the bottles were protected from the weather and racked on a platform floor above a bed of ice (replenished monthly) buried in sawdust. But which wine was his favorite? The answer may surprise you! In addition to French food, Jefferson also developed an appreciation for the country’s wine during his time as an ambassador in France. And not just any wine. It turns out, our founding father enjoyed a little effervescence in his glass. Saint-Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux is said to be the oldest sparkling wine in the world (dating back to the 1500s) and the last-known inventory of Jefferson’s cellar revealed he had 49 bottles of it in stock. The good news? It’s still around today so you can try it for yourself. The bottle retails for around $15 so it’s just as refreshing to your wallet as it is your palate! After the first sip, we could see why TJ made such a fuss about the fizz.
This little bit of trivia was brought to our attention during one of our sparkling Wine, Wit & Wisdom events. Join us this Valentine’s Day for a special champagne and chocolate tasting where our chefs will also serve up a little history.
Champagnes and sparkling wines weren’t Jefferson’s only favorites. He also imported a variety of reds and whites from Portugal, Spain, Hungary, Germany, and Italy. According to Monticello archives from 1818, Thomas Jefferson wrote “in nothing have the habits of the palate more decisive influence than in our relish of wines.” George Washington respected his colleague’s opinions and expertise so much he requested Jefferson select the first wines to be stocked in the President’s House. Jefferson also similarly advised presidents Madison and Monroe about which purchases to make.
Washington and Jefferson even joined other heavy hitters—George Wythe, Peyton Randolph, and Lord Dunmore—to financially back a project called “Virginia Wine Company.” The goal was to start producing the same quality wines here as they did in Europe. But the vines they imported from Italy and planted in Monticello in 1774 didn’t survive the rough winter and phylloxera (pesky bugs that attacked the roots). Jefferson’s vision was only further derailed by the Revolution. Despite years of trying to grow grape vines, the founding father never produced a single bottle in his lifetime. However, the wine connoisseur’s “glass half-full” attitude inspired many growers to follow in his footsteps. Today, Virginia is home to more than 200 wineries and in 2012, Wine Enthusiast Magazine listed us as one of the top 10 wine destinations in the world!
Be sure to join us Presidents’ Day Weekend as we celebrate Jefferson and all our founding fathers!
Do you have a favorite Virginia wine? Do you prefer red, white, or sparkling? Share below!