The most important wine presidents to date have been Thomas Jefferson – for being obsessed about wine, Franklin D. Roosevelt – for repealing Prohibition and John F. Kennedy – for being the best at partying.
Today is Presidents Day here are some interesting facts we dug up regarding the history of wines and our Presidents. President Washington, the man the holiday was originally meant to honor, actually distilled his own whiskey. When it came to wine, he drank Madeira, often three to five glasses a night after dinner.
President Lincoln held an actual liquor license back in his days in Salem, Illinois. For a modest $7 dollars, in 1833, he and his partner William F. Berry got a tavern license that permitted them to sell a “1/2 pint of wine or French brandy for $.25,” as well as a “1/2 pint of rum, peach brandy, or Holland gin for $.1875.”
All the way back in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd put local wines on the menu at a State Dinner. One of these wines is mentioned by name – Norton, a grape indigenous to North America grown by Missouri winemakers who were German immigrants.
While posted in France on diplomatic duties, Thomas Jefferson, in the 1780s drank a lot of wine, and ordered even more to be sent back to the US (roughly 400 bottles per year – some shipped by barrel), many from Bordeaux. He upped the ante to 600 bottles per year while living in the White House. Given that level of consumption it’s no surprise he left the White House having racked up a wine bill of around $10,000 dollars.
President Jefferson strongly believed that America could and should produce its own wines. His initial attempts to grow European grapes (vitis vinifera) at his plantation in Monticello ended in failure, but ultimately his thesis proved accurate. Today the American wine industry is one of the world’s largest; without Jefferson’s relentless early encouragement who’s to say if we’d have accomplished all we have.
Over the years a number of wineries have appeared on the menu for state dinners. Here are just a few of the American labels that have made an appearance: Inglenook, Duckhorn, Chimney Rock, Dumol, Flowers, Ridge.