Monday, November 2, 2009

Wine maker: Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States, visited Hochheim am Main on April 10, 1788

Picture: Signpost in Hochheim am Main in the Rheingau in memory of President Thomas Jefferson's visit on April 10, 1788.

Before becoming President of the US, Thomas Jefferson was American Ambassador to France. He was appointed in 1785 and spent five years in Europe. There, he mingled effective statesmanship with frequent trips to the wine regions of France and Germany. When he sailed home in 1789, in the middle of the French Revolution, he boarded his ship at Le Havre with more than 300 bottles of wine and also grapevines for his estate in Virginia.

The third President of the USA - and notable bon viveur - Thomas Jefferson visited the Rheingau in 1788 and wrote that the wine of the "Abbaye of Johnsberg is the best made on the Rhine without comparison … That of the year 1775 is the best." He also referred to the Rheingau’s Riesling as the "small and delicate Rhysslin which grows only from Hochheim to Rudesheim". Impressed by the quality of the Rheingau Riesling wines, he bought 100 grapevines in Hochheim to take back to his estate in Virginia.

As an aside, later, in the 19th century, Queen Victoria of the British Empire also fell in love with Riesling wines from Hochheim and made the Rheingau region famous for white wines in the United Kingdom. Finding it difficult to pronounce “Hoch” in English, the British simplified it to “Hock,” making it a synonym for all German white wines. The British saying “A good Hock keeps away the doc” dates to these times.

Before moving to Europe, Jefferson had already tried to grow wine in Virginia, but without 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 European 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.

Here is a translation of the text on the signpost:

Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States of America, from 1801 to 1809, wrote the Decleration of Independence of July 4, 1776.

From 1785 to 1789, Thomas Jefferson was American Ambassador in Paris. In 1788, he stayed from April 6 to April 10 in the "Red House" in Frankfurt am Main and drank the oldest wine, a Hochheimer wine from 1726.

On April 10, 1788, he traveled to Hochheim and described the vineyards as follows: The grapevines are 1 meter apart from another and are 2 meters high. Once every three or four years, fertilizer is applied. 1000 grapevines yield 170 to 340 bottles of wine per year.

Thomas Jefferson bought 100 grapevines for his garden in Paris. He wrote to a friend: the grapevines which I brought from Hochheim, are doing very well in my garden and will cross the Atlantic next winter, so that I can offer at home a glass of Hochheimer wine grown and made by myself.

This signpost was put up at the initiative of the Historischer Verein Hochheim in memory of his visit in Hochheim am Main.

1 comment:

  1. That's interesting. I knew about the Queen, but I didn't hear about Jefferson yet. Thanks!