Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Thomas Jefferson and Burgundy

Thomas Jefferson was principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence, third President of the United States, and a Founding Father, but on the side, he was wine adviser to presidents George Washington, James Madison, and James Monroe. He famously declared that "good wine is a necessity of life for me.

Jefferson was definitely a drinker, not one who just sits on a bottle. His household in Monticello was said to consume 400 bottles of wine a year, and apparently exceeded that number on occasions--like the day when the Marquis de Lafayette dropped by to party in 1824, they exhausted every bottle of red wine in the cellar and Jefferson had to send someone to the city for backup.

Jefferson's cellar in Monticello must have been legendary during his time, as he filled it with all the great wines from France, Italy, and Portugal.  He had a keen palate, able to discern wines that he liked, without having to resort to Parker scores. His favorite wines are to this day regarded as some of the best wines in the world.

Jefferson clearly had a fondness for Burgundy, but even he realized back then that unlike Bordeaux, which was a cakewalk for him, Burgundy wasn't easy to navigate. He found help in the person of Etienne Parent, a cooper in Beaune, whom he met on a visit to Burgundy when he served as ambassador to France. It was said Jefferson and Parent talked shop on wine and viticulture, as well as philosophy and way of life over, we could only imagine, many bottles of great Burgundies.

After Jefferson became president and even later when he retired to Monticello, his communications with Etienne Parent continued. Apparently, Parent became Jefferson's negociant for importing Burgundies into the US. Papers, records, and correspondence exist that show proof of their purchases. Such was his friendship and respect for Etienne Parent that Jefferson signed some of their correspondence: "Thomas Jefferson, your humble and devoted servant." A bit over the top, perhaps? But, hey, Jefferson probably wanted to make sure he kept getting those allocations.

In late 2010, work on restoring Jefferson's Monticello cellar was completed and a formal celebration dinner was planned at the French Embassy in Washington DC. Among the folks invited were François Parent, direct descendant of Etienne Parent, and his wife, Anne-François Gros. François is proprietor of Domaine François Parent in Pommard. Unfortunately, François could not make it to the US but he sent a gift for the newly restored wine cellar, a bottle of 2005 Pommard Premier Cru Les Epenots and a bottle of 1789 Pommard Premier Cru Les Rugiens!

Ah, life, liberty, wine, and the pursuit of happiness.

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