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Jefferson Thomas

The American politician Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was born in Shadwell, Virginia, the son of a tobacco farmer. As one of the pioneers for a free America, he formulated the first draft of the Declaration of Independence of the USA. Between 1785 and 1789 he was US envoy in Paris and and visited many wine-growing regions in France and Italy in 1787 and 1788 to study viticulture. He gave detailed descriptions of the Bordeaux wines and evaluated the best wineries, including Château Carbonnieux (Graves) and Château-Grillet (Rhône). His ranking was included in the famous 1855 Bordeaux Classification. To his friend and first US president George Washington (1732-1799) he sent 30 bottles of the Château d'Yquem, which was visited in 1787.

In 1801 he was elected the third US president and after his re-election in 1805 he held the highest American office until 1809, during which time he built up an extensive wine cellar with mainly French cult wines such as the top wineries Château Latour and Château Lafite-Rothschild. Of the latter, a bottle of the 1787 vintage from his possession fetched a fantasy price at Christie's at an auction in December 1985. The bottle, owned by the German collector of rarities Hardy Rodenstock (1941-2018), was auctioned for 105,000 pounds (175,000 dollars) to the American publisher Malcolm Forbes (1919-1990). Another wine in Jefferson's possession was a Château Margaux 1787, which was offered for 500,000 dollars but never sold. Thus it would have become the most expensive wine in the world (see there in detail). Today still available Werin bottles from his former property mostly carry the initials "Th:J" engraved into the bottles.

Throughout his life, Jefferson had a high regard for agriculture and from 1770 onwards he worked intensively with viticulture on his estate Monticello in Virginia for over 30 years. He also had a moral motive, because he was convinced that the only way to keep Americans from consuming stronger alcoholic beverages was to have a proper wine culture and sufficient quantities of wine. He wrote: "No nation is drunk where wine is cheap. This is the only antidote to the deadly poison whisky". This was supported by a law in 1791. All alcoholic beverages were subject to an excise tax, with the exception of wine produced in America. He experimented again and again with imported cuttings from Europe and appointed Anthony Giannini (1747-1824), an Italian from Tuscany, as estate manager. He had immigrated with Philip Mazzei (1730-1816), who planted the first vineyards in Virginia with his neighbour and friend Jefferson.

But all attempts with European cuttings failed, they were all destroyed by the phylloxera. Later Thomas Jefferson tried to accept the peculiarities of the American vines. He now tested many native American vines and encouraged many others to do so. In 1783 he wrote a letter in which he gave a detailed account of a wine from the Vitis vulpina species. In a further letter in 1817, he spoke very positively about a wine produced from the Scuppernong. John Adlum (1759-1836), who was the first to cultivate the Catawba variety, was in close contact with him by letter and in 1823 he received a wine made from it. His dream of making the USA a top wine-growing nation did not come true throughout his life.

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