From his time as a young adult to his final years, Thomas Jefferson enjoyed the company of a fine glass of wine. In this episode of Mountaintop History, Monticello Guide Kyle Chattleton explores Jefferson's life-long enthusiasm for the beverage, as well as his hopes that wine would become more popular among his fellow citizens.
This is Mountaintop History, a podcast from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at historic Monticello. I’m Kyle Chattleton.
In 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “for the present I confine myself to the physical want of some good Montepulciano […], this being a very favorite wine, and habit having rendered the light and high flavored wines a necessary of life with me.”
From his time as a young adult, to his final years, Jefferson enjoyed the company of a fine glass of wine. As a budding lawyer, he frequented the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia, and there in the presence of William Small, George Wythe, and Governor Francis Fauquier, was trained at the dinner table to recognize and savor more expensive and refined wines.
This education continued and flourished during Jefferson’s time in Europe, where he served as the American Ambassador to King Louis XVI. There he visited vineyards in Burgundy and Bordeaux, drank glasses of Madeira with John Adams in England, and traveled to the Piedmont region of Northern Italy.
And when Jefferson returned to the United States, he brought with him over 650 bottles of wine from Europe. It certainly was a large number, but historical evidence shows that the Monticello household consumed hundreds of bottles of wine per year. They included bottles of Nebbiolo from Italy, fortified wines from Portugal and Spain, and champagne and hermitage from France. Jefferson described his wines as having different characteristics, like sweet, acidic, dry, silky, rough, and astringent.
Jefferson hoped that wine would become more popular amongst Americans. But not everyone had the same enthusiasm as Jefferson. After dinner one evening at the President’s House, John Quincy Adams wrote, “dined at the President’s. […] There was as usual a dissertation upon Wines; not very edifying.” In time, however, many of Jefferson’s favorite wines from Europe became regular fixtures at the American dining room table.
This has been another edition of Mountaintop History, a collaboration between WTJU and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. To learn more, and to plan your next visit, go to Monticello.org.