Wine Education: Who was George Washington's Sommelier?

Wine Education: Who was George Washington's Sommelier?

You may be asking, 'why do we need to know who Washington employed as his Sommelier?' This mystery person also knew more about wine than anyone on Earth in the 18th century. He was a farmer and knew climate and soil. And, this wine expert proclaimed that the United States possessed the potential to compete with Europe for high-quality wine.

If these facts don't convince you of the importance of this individual, how about if you knew that he was also Washington's Secretary of State at the same time he conducted his Sommelier duties? By now, you have most likely deducted this person also became the third president of the United States. Of course, Thomas Jefferson was Washington's Sommelier. 


Europe's interest in New World soil before the Revolution:


Jefferson may deserve the credit for enhancing American life with wine immersed in culture and quality, but before the Revolution, England had her eye on the New World as potential high-producing vineyards. England enforced laws in the colonies requiring farmers to plant grape vines.

Felipo Mazzei from Italy compared the land in Virginia to the rolling hills of Burgundy.


Jefferson and Monticello:


Now, a National Monument, Monticello in Virginia represents a culmination of what Jefferson hoped to realize in a home, farm, and vineyard. Due to various interruptions, the house started in 1769 was not completed until 1809. Though Jefferson had some success harvesting local grapes, he never achieved success with European vines partially due to the American Revolution and Jefferson's diplomatic travels after the war. Today, however, touring and tasting fine wines from this area does take place.


Jefferson and European travels:


After his wife's death in 1782, Jefferson fought his grief by immersing himself in public service, diplomacy, and learning about European culture and wine. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin joined Jefferson in Paris to improve international relations after the U.S. gained independence. Jefferson went on to explore vineyards and wine throughout France and Northern Italy.


Jefferson and his attitude toward wine:


Jefferson wasn't satisfied with the sweet ports consumed in England. Once the Hessians introduced him to fine German wine, it sparked his curiosity on what France and Italy had to offer.

Though his presidential salary was generous, he continued to go into debt from his passion for purchasing large amounts of expensive wine for himself and others and from his elaborate parties.

Even with his financial irresponsibility for buying and serving wine, he drank somewhat moderately. He believed in wine both as a luxury and a contributor to good health. Though not his most prominent claim to fame, indeed his contribution to wine culture in America deserves recognition.

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  • Adam Linet