Fun Facts: Thomas Jefferson and Wine

Thomas Jefferson’s fondness for wine is well known. Here are some fun facts on his lifelong interest from Thomas Jefferson on Wine by John Hailman.

•Thomas Jefferson was interested in wine from an early age. It is believed he was first introduced to fine wines by the royal governor of Virginia, Francis Fauquier, who Jefferson met while a student at The College of William & Mary, and by George Wythe, who was Jefferson’s law tutor.

•Thomas Jefferson’s taste in wine was quite broad. He had a preference for French wines—certain wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne and Rhônes in particular—but he also enjoyed and praised wines from many other countries, especially Italy, Spain and Portugal.

•In Jefferson’s time, there were few bottle factories, so many wines were shipped to him in barrels to be bottled at Monticello, his estate. Corks were so hard to obtain that he planted cork oak trees at Monticello in an effort to produce his own corks, but the trees did not survive as the climate was too cold.

•Jefferson believed that wine drinking would reduce alcohol abuse. Both as President and Secretary of State, Jefferson tried to encourage wine drinking by urging the lowering of import duties on table wine.

•In 1787, while serving as United States Minister to France, Jefferson took an official three-month tour of southern France and Northern Italy. This trip had a significant impact on his wine knowledge, as he visited vineyards and wine cellars and tried wines he had not had before.

•During his first term as President, Thomas Jefferson spent an average of $3,200/year on wine—almost 13% of the $25,000/year he received for salary and all expenses.

•While President, Jefferson had a wine cellar under what is now the West Wing.

•Jefferson was an avid gardener and tried to establish vineyards at Monticello so he could produce wine. Sadly, he never managed to make any of his own wine because he was never able to grow enough grapes.

Source: Thomas Jefferson on Wine by John Hailman. Check it out if you’d like to learn more about Thomas Jefferson and his passion for wine.

Photo: Jefferson vineyard near Monticello.

  • Diane Dobry

    Thomas Jefferson was highly complimentary of Hungarian wines, from the northeast.  He spent a large amount of money on buying them because they were hard to get out of Hungary at the time of his presidency.  The broker sent him various dry and sweet wines (probably Tokaji Aszu dessert wines).  He preferred the less sweet wines, which he described as very smooth, and he wanted more of those as soon as possible after the first shipment arrived.  Hungarian wines were for hundreds of years on par with French wines, and would probably still be considered as good if the country had not undergone the political difficulties it has.  Their wines are fabulous (I imported them for a time, but could not get the best wineries to agree to a contract), but they are, in many ways, not used to marketing in and working with the US.  You can get some good wines in the US, though.  GERE, is from the southern Hunarian region of Villány (aka the Hungarian Bordeaux region). They have fabulous reds and a nice white Olaszrizling.   Lake Balaton has great white wine regions surrounding it, so many regions with “Balaton” in the name (like Konyari from Balatonlelle) are good to try.