Toasting on the 4th
Where did June go? I mean it was right here a minute ago and then BAM! July is almost here... With the 4th of July rapidly approaching, I thought it pertinent to pen a piece on the Founding Fathers and Presidential connection and proclivity to wine. I do this so that maybe we can all learn something and then raise a glass to them on that auspicious day. Additionally I wanted yet another reason to tie two of my passions together, history and wine. I know raising a frosty glass/can of beer is how Anheuser-Busch and other breweries suggest that one celebrates America’s Independence Day; at least this is how they portray it on the television. Raising the king of beers on the 4th of July just does not seem right to me for some reason. If I recall correctly (and while I am a student of history, American history is not my forte) we fought the war of independence in part, over being ruled by a king. Well, I’ll not sit idly by as we raise up another king (of beer). No way, not on my watch. Instead, I will turn to the Founding Fathers and Presidents and see what they would drink. The Founding Fathers were not shy when it came to drinking. Rather they were just the opposite, a wild bunch, loving to imbibe: cider, rum, whisky, punches (oh the punches). Often they could be found raising a glass of Madeira or sherry after their meals or for toasts, and for some of them, a glass of wine, on more than one occasion. We lets check out the habits of a few of these Founding Fathers and Presidents.
Richard Millhouse Nixon was fond of both Champagne and Bordeaux, spending a good amount of his entertainment budget each year on fulfilling his appetites for those wines. But Nixon was also a bit stingy, reportedly he saved some of the good juice for himself and had lesser vintages and producers served to guests, often requesting that the bottles be poured with a towel wrapped around the label so that guest would be none the wiser; Tricky Dick indeed. Ronald Reagan, while also a fan of Bordeaux, had a love for wine made from California grapes. Which were often found on his dinner table during his presidency and beyond. JFK and Jackie were quite fond of good bubbly, and thus had a passion for fine Champagne. As did Ulysses S. Grant, who drank bottles of the bubbly in addition to whiskey while on the warpath and in the White House. It is well known that Barack Obama’s preferred intoxicating beverage is beer, but he also enjoyed big Napa Cabs as well as the occasional Pinot Noirs from the western states. Donald Trump, a known teetotaler, does not drink, but he does own a winery here in Virginia and regularly has it served to guests at White House events.
Our first President, Washington, was a lover of Madeira, and could often be found ending his evening meal with a glass (or three). John Adams got a small bite from the wine bug, likely while living in Paris as an ambassador. Adams is usually viewed as someone who follows the rules and letter of the law, however, once tried to sneak over 500 bottles of Bordeaux into the US, avoiding paying the duty tax on them. He failed, but not one to give up so easily, he turned to his “frenemy” Thomas Jefferson for help. Jefferson pulled a stunt that the Dukes of Hazard would be proud of, and snuck Adams’ wine into the states while avoiding Boss Hog, I mean the tariff man.
This leads us nicely to Thomas, dear, dear, Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s biggest ever wine lovers. This man fell head over heels for fine wine while in school. He quickly doubled down while US Ambassador to France and even brought back clippings from the not yet classified First Growth Vineyards, to be planted at his home in Virginia. Jefferson reportedly spent over one third of his presidential salary on wine in his first year in office. To put that into perspective, percentage wise, not even Johnny Depp buys wine at that rate. During his first three years in office Jefferson ordered enough barrels of Madeira to fill 3,500 bottles. Quite a Madeira order. Jefferson however did not limit himself to just French wine and Madeira, as time went on he became increasingly fond of Sherry, and soon his Sherry habit eclipsed his Madeira habit.
Post-presidency Jefferson became a sort of official wine purveyor for some of the later presidents, specifically Madison and Monroe. By all accounts he did a pretty bang up job, we know this for two reasons. First, during the War of 1812, when British regulars were occupying Washington DC, President Madison and family had to quickly flee the residency or be captured. They fled with such gusto that the meal they had been preparing to have was left on the table un-touched. At least it was un-touched until the Red Coats entered the dining room and decided that such a spread should not be left to waste, so they devoured the meal and wines before setting fire to the domicile. British officers remarked in their diaries and correspondences back home to loved ones about the splendor of the meal and the exceptional quality of the wines, specifically the Madeira.
"Never was nectar more grateful to the palates of the gods than the crystal goblet of Madeira and water I quaffed off at Mr. Madison's expense." - Lt. James Scott
I am sure that First Lady Dolly Madison and President James Madison were not as pleased as the gluttonous Brits with what transpired in their now burnt out dining room. Secondly, under Jefferson’s guidance, President Monroe slightly over spent on his wine budget, and when I say slightly overspent what I really mean is that he took all the money that was set aside for furniture in the currently being reconstructed White House and bought wine with it instead.
Wine, you see, is an intricate part of the American landscape and history, especially for the Founding Fathers and Presidents, both recent and long past. So when the Fourth of July comes, and it is quickly approaching, instead of reaching for that frosty glass of King George III, I mean beer, try for some wine or Madeira. Raise it proudly and high into the sky as the fireworks blaze in spectacular displays overhead. After all, drinking wine is as American as apple pie, and in many ways more so.
Cheers and God Bless America.