Revolving Bookstand: Jefferson and Wine
Thomas Jefferson claimed, in 1818, that “in nothing have the habits of the palate more decisive influence than in our relish of wines.” His own habits had been formed over thirty years before—at the tables of Parisian philosophes and in the vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux.
Gabriele Rausse, Monticello’s Director of Gardens and Grounds and a Virginia vintner worked to restore Jefferson’s vineyard at Monticello. Here are his recommendations for Jefferson and wine books:
Thomas Jefferson on Wine by John Hailman
This is probably the best researched book on Jefferson and wine. Hailman told me it took him 30 years to research and write this book. I love how detailed he is in every issue and situation on the topic. Nothing is left out—he puts together all of the little details and makes them into an attractive story. This book is not only for the person who wants basic information about Jefferson and wine, but also for experts who already know the subject.
The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson by James Gabler
This detailed book tells the story of Jefferson's travels throughout the vineyards of France, Italy, and Germany as well as his introduction of European wines. I remember when Gabler showed up at Colle (near Monticello) in 1989 looking to see the land that Mazzei had used to grow European grapes (Vitis vinifera). This book is not a difficult read, and is especially good when enjoyed with a glass of wine.
Gabriele Rausse, Monticello’s Director of Gardens and Grounds and local vitner, joined Monticello as assistant director of gardens and grounds in 1995. During his time at Monticello, he has worked to restore Thomas Jefferson’s vineyard, located just below the vegetable garden. The Northeast vineyard was replanted using several Jefferson-related European varieties, grated on hardy, pest-resistant native rootstock. The Southwest Vineyard was replanted entirely with the Sangiovese grape, a variety documented by Jefferson in 1807 and the principal ingredient of Chianti. Rausse oversees the production of wine as well as the care of the restored vineyards, which continue to serve as experimental gardens of unusual varieties of vinifera. Throughout Virginia, Rausse is known for his mark on Virginia wine and has often been called the “Father of the Virginia Wine Industry.” In October 2010, Edible Blue Ridge magazine called Rausse, “God of Wine.”
As an Italian immigrant, Rausse shares his Mediterranean knowledge of grapes and wine-making to the thriving market in Virginia. He first came to Virginia to establish Barboursville Vineyards in April 1976. Barboursville Vineyards was the first commercial vinifera winery in Virginia. By initiating the growth and development of this native Mediterranean grape, Rausse created a name for himself in the local wine community. He was drawn to other vineyards, such as Simeon (now Jefferson), Afton Mountain, and Blenheim, to help jump-start their place in the Virginia wine market.
Rausse has become one of the vital overseers in wine production and the restoration of vineyards in Virginia. He began the wine competition at the State Fair of Virginia and received Virginia Wine Person of the Year in 1996. Most recently, Rausse was awarded the 2011 Virginia Distinguished Service Award. This honor is presented to an individual for meritorious service to the council and state’s agribusiness industry.