Jefferson was America's first famous wine connoisseur. He had an extensive wine collection, and featured two wine cellars at Monticello. One cellar was for bottled wine and the other was for wine in casks. In the bottle cellar were dumbwaiters that allowed Jefferson to bring wine from the basement cellar directly to the first floor, on either side of a fireplace. This allowed Jefferson to get the wine without the necesity of a slave interrupting (or overhearing) after-dinner conversation.
Jefferson's habit was to drink hard cider or beer with meals and wine after the meals. He believed wine stimulated intelligent conversation. In the 1700's most Virginians drank hard liquor or fortified wines such as port, sherry and madeira. This was probably because such wines shipped better and stored longer. Jefferson, however, perferred the French varietal wines. He believed that hard liquors lead to drunkeness and wine did not.
Jefferson also popularized the drinking of champagne, during his terms as President. He served hundreds of bottles of champagne at state dinners. He kept records on the number of bottles and the number of drinkers. He estimated that two bottles of champagne would serve five persons. He recommended having approximately 500 bottles of champagne on hand per year (if you were a president). Jefferson was the wine advisor to Presidents Washington, Madison and Monroe.
Jefferson tried growing grapes from European root stock on several occasions. However, he always failed. Today, Jefferson Vineyards notes that their grapes grow on the actual vineyards Jefferson selected. Their vineyard is just a mile or so from Monticello and well worth the visit. There is a sampling room. The wines are quite nice, and Jefferson would have been proud to serve them.
Last revised November 1, 1998
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