Friday, November 6, 2009

Wine Festival: Inaugural Thomas Jefferson Wine Festival at Poplar Forest in Virginia (USA)

While Thomas Jefferson is best known as the third president of the United States, Ambassador to France and Secretary of State, he was also the second Vice President, Virginia Governor, an inventor, gastronome, an avid write and a wine connoisseur and vineyard operator.

His role in promoting grape growing and wine making in the US is probably his least known accomplishment, but one of enormous significance for wine lovers like me. His wine knowledge and taste were honed during his years in France, as he enjoyed the best wines of France and Europe at both private and public functions.

Throughout his life, Thomas Jefferson was an advocate of the virtues of wine. His advice to merchants and friends opened channels for the importation of wine into the United States from France, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Upon Thomas Jefferson's return from France, he found that he had been made President George Washington's Secretary of State. A perk of Jefferson's service was to serve as Washington's wine expert, stocking the Presidential wine cellar. Wines represented at Presidential dinners included wines from Madeira, Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, and the United States. Records indicate that the wines favored by him were the sparkling Champagnes and the noble-sweet.

With regard to Virginia, Thomas Jefferson believed that it's rolling, red clay hills and mild climate were perfect for vine growing. Before moving to Europe Jefferson had already tried to grow wine in Virginia, but without much success. In 1773, Jefferson first tried to grow wine by hiring an Italian winemaker. However, he produced only a small quantity of American wines and none from the imported European Vitis vinefera vines. That did not change when he came back from Europe with new plants.

While his personal foray into wines only saw success as a connoisseur and not a wine producer, he was considered an expert during his lifetime. For more than sixty years, Jefferson wrote about wine growing and wine making.

Today Jefferson's dream of wine growing in Virginia has been achieved. Virginia is among the top US wine producing regions. At Jefferson's Monticello, more than 20 varieties of grapes are grown.

On Saturday, November 21st from 12 pm to 5 pm Thomas Jefferson's passion for wine-making in Virginia will be celebrated at the inaugural Thomas Jefferson Wine Festival at Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson's secluded retreat home, featuring the Bedford Wine Trail, Virginia wineries, craft vendors, food and music.

In 1811, Thomas Jefferson wrote from Poplar Forest to his good friend Dr. Benjamin Rush, "I find friendship to be like wine, raw when new, ripened with old age, the true old man's milk and restorative cordial."

Poplar Forest is located in Bedford County, near Lynchburg. Only 2 hours from Richmond, 4 hours from Washington, DC and 30 minutes off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

On November2, 2009, I talked in a blog posting about Thomas Jefferson’s visit to the Rheingau (Germany) in April 1788.

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