From Our Cellars

History Makes the Heart Wine Fonder

Posted June 26, 2012 in The Connoisseur Says...

Been looking back at some history. Fourth of July makes us do that sometimes. Also hearing a great deal of blathering about the Presidential elections. Blather, blather, blather.

So as we were looking back at our nation’s history we came across a stunning little page-turner: The Second Charter of Virginia; May 23, 1609. It was a several thousand word screed by James, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith.  King James was granting lands in the New World to a band of humble servants. It goes on to list several hundred nobles, Captains, Ironmongers, drapers, haberdashers, skinners, fishmongers, and vintners.

Yup. You read that right. King James packed his lot with several gentle men who were trained to raise the grape. Seems that early reports had the New World a veritable Eden for varietals. The first Europeans to land in North America called the place Vinland because it was covered in native grape vines. French Huguenots made wine in Florida around 1563. The Second Charter of Virginia just laid it out as a concrete goal.

“Go to that new place over there, get as much land as you can for these glass beads, and make some wine.”

When we actually became a country, “Gorgeous” George Washington continued our happy celebration of wine. To outfit his first official residence he ordered up a wine service for his home on Cherry Street in Manhattan. Not wanting to offend the common folk with images of kingly grandeur, he asked that they be plated instead of solid silver. “Extravagance would not comport with my own inclination, not the example which ought to be set.” He later offered the coolers as a gift to his BFF, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton presumably used them to great effect in a career-ending affair with a friend’s wife, and was later killed in a $10 duel with Aaron Burr. The wine service recently sold for over $700,000. That’s a lot of sawbucks.George's Cooler

It is no secret that Thomas Jefferson loved a good Madeira, and while John Adams encouraged him to hit the tailors of Paris before meeting with the French Court, he instead invested heavily in wine. When he became President and moved into the White House he promptly installed a 20,000 bottle wine collection in the basement. Tommy J, apparently, didn’t like to wait for his wine, and installed dumbwaiters that allowed him to summon up a bottle on a whim without having to wait for a steward to fetch it for him. Jefferson said, “Good wine is a necessity of life for me.” We wish we could send him a shirt.

Abraham Lincoln, slayer of vampires, was also a champion of American industry and a lover of wine. He knew the dangers of abuse, saying, “…None seemed to think the injury arose from the use of a bad thing, but from the abuse of a very good thing.” Rumor has it that Abe wore that hat to conceal a bottle of Claret. He was also fond of serving domestic wines at his dinners. He thought that they held up quite well against their imported cousins.

The Kennedy White House was rightly accused of being a “French” White House, and from Jackie O’s designer suits to the décor, they were certainly influenced by the Continent. The favorite wine of Camelot was Chateau Petrus Pomerol Merlot from  Saint-Emilion. Lyndon Johnson wanted to change this, and was the first President to dictate that wines in the White House be American wines.

Nixon, a renowned lover of bourbon and The Washington Post, had a taste for French wines, and would routinely sneak them into state dinners. He was often spotted sipping from a napkin-draped bottle of French red while reaching for the play button on his tape recorder. No, the rewind…or erase…Oh, never mind. It’s just 18 ½ minutes of Kissinger rambling.

Have you got a peanut allergy? The Carter White House made it easy for you. Jimmy Carter liked to portray himself as just a simple farmer from Plains, Georgia. He had a crazy brother named Billy who was just a simple beer drinker. Don’t let him fool you. Miss Lillian’s simple son got himself into the Naval Academy, no small feat, and he became pretty good at dismantling the nuclear reactor on a submarine. He also liked to make his own wine, a trick that he learned from his pappy. His pappy also taught him how to fight rabbits with a canoe paddle, but he was less adept at that skill.

Obama is the first President to serve organic wines at 1600 Pennsylvania. Guess that it must be the influence of the First Lady, a gardener extraordinaire. He got some flack for serving up some expensive labels at an early state dinner, and getting a copy of the wine list has become something of a parlor trick. We don’t really care, just so long as he continues the wine tradition. In moderation. If President Obama were to get a little too-well-lubricated and trip over Bo the Dog in the Rose Garden we could end up with Vice President Joe Biden minding the Oval Office.

Biden doesn’t drink.

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