On Presidents’ Day, originally enacted to honor George Washington, and in 1971 amended to create a new three-day weekend, we honor all United States Presidents — many of whom were wine drinkers, and some of whom have had significant influence on the American wine industry.
Here’s hoping you are enjoying a day off with a good glass of wine… and here are 14 fascinating wine facts about some of the men who have served in America’s highest office…
- The father of our country had an affinity for Madeira, a fortified wine made on the Portuguese island of the same name. In 1759, he sent a note to Robert Cary & Company that read, in part, “Order from the best House in Madeira a Pipe of the best old Wine…”
- A trip to France in 1784 changed Thomas Jefferson’s drinking habits. Like most people, his experience with wine up to that point had been limited to Madeira, in large part because it traveled well (thanks to being fortified). But once he had experienced the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, there was no turning back for his palate. Jefferson planted vines, with limited success, on his Monticello estate, and in 1818 observed, “… In nothing have the habits of the palate more decisive influence than in our relish of wines.”
- Although the wineries of the Monticello Wine Trail in Virginia were inspired by the vision that Jefferson had for winemaking in the New World, several of the Trail’s wineries are situated along James Monroe Parkway.
- James Madison was known as “The Father of the Constitution,” and the 25th anniversary Montpelier Wine Festival will be held on the grounds of his lifelong home in May. You can get festival information here: http://montpelierwinefestival.com
- John Quincy Adams installed the first billiard table in the White House, and also enjoyed hosting wine tastings. It’s not known whether one had anything to do with the other, but a billiard table certainly could make a nice staging table for wine bottles and glasses.
- Wine was served at an official White House function for the first time during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in 1861. One of the locally made bottlings was crafted from the Norton grape.
- Rutherford B. Hayes banished wine and other alcoholic beverages from the White House, much to the delight of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
- Woodrow Wilson did not support the Volstead Act, which ushered in the era of Prohibition in the United States, but his voice was shouted down by “dry” crusaders. With the transport of alcohol banned, the President was granted a special exemption to move the contents of his wine cellar from the White House to Wilson’s home in Washington, D.C., when he left office.
- As a precursor to the repeal of Prohibition, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Beer and Wine Revenue Act, which levied a federal tax on all alcoholic beverages. It also granted individual states the option of further regulating the sale or distribution of beer and wine — leading to a mass of red tape that exists to this day under the winery job description of “compliance.”
- Harry S. Truman preferred white wine to red.
- The most expensive white wine ever served at a White House state dinner was a Chateau Haut-Brion Blanc. The dinner was hosted by John F. Kennedy.
- Richard Nixon preferred Chateau Lafite Rothschild, but is said to have served much less expensive wines (wrapped in towels to hide their labels) to guests.
- Ronald Reagan was a big fan of California wines — you’ll recall he served as Governor of California before becoming President of the United States — and Golden State wineries often experienced sales spikes when their bottlings were served at the White House during his administration.
- George H.W. Bush has signed bottles from Texas estate Messina Hof Winery to be put up for auction, with proceeds helping to fund college scholarships for Texas students.