• By Sue Shelden   |   Friday, June 7, 2013 at 8:55 pm   |     |   Print   |   Permalink

We could in the United States make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good. Thomas Jefferson

With Fathers’ Day nearing, I began thinking about the early “Fathers” of American viticulture. Thomas Jefferson was not only a “Founding Father” of our newly created nation, but also the first oenophile of note.

He was a true renaissance man with so many interests that it is hard to believe he had so much time to devote to his wine interests. His early preferences were for the fortified wines: Port, Claret and Madeira, but after his European travels, his tastes leaned more towards Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Jefferson was determined to start a vineyard at Monticello, but efforts spanning five decades with well over 20 grape varieties all failed. As John Hailman states in his book, Thomas Jefferson on Winejefferson-madeira-cellar-list:

“Despite his failures, he died with the belief that his experiments were a useful encouragement to others, and that even his own failure to make wine never dissuaded him from his idea that America would one day become a great winemaking country.”

A recent trip through Virginia proved him right. Not only is his beloved Monticello a major vineyard, there are now more than 150 wineries in Virginia–many of the finest America has to offer. So, a toast to America’s Founding Father of Wine!

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