Kids today don’t know what they missed.
When I was growing up, we got a day off from school for Washington’s Birthday, and another day off for Lincoln’s Birthday. We were taught that Washington was our nation’s founding father, and that Lincoln saved the country.
The details were a little blurry, and there was some sense that Lincoln’s Birthday wasn’t celebrated everywhere, but we were just happy to be out of school.
Today, there’s just a single day honoring all American chiefs of state, and in case you had forgotten, you may have enjoyed a day off yesterday because of it: Presidents Day.
Any day off from work is worth celebrating, and any celebration is a reason to open a bottle of wine. President Trump says he has never consumed alcohol of any kind, including wine, but several of his predecessors were big fans of the gift of the grape.
It’s fairly well known that Thomas Jefferson planted grapevines — European varieties — at his Monticello home. Sadly, he did not live to see them produce wine-worthy grapes.
A trip to France in 1784 had changed 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. His palate was intrigued.
Most early Presidents were Madeira drinkers. Records show that during one six-month stretch — from September 1775 to March 1776 — George Washington spent more than $6,000 on adult beverages, mostly Madeira wine. Back then, $6,000 could buy A LOT of Madeira.
On January 24, 1980, Jimmy Carter hosted a dinner at which Prime Minister Francesco Cossiga of Italy was served a meal that included Robert Mondavi Johannisberg Riesling, Simi Cabernet Sauvignon and Hans Kornell Extra Dry sparkling wine. The dinner was followed by a concert featuring country music star Tom T. Hall, who concluded his set with the song, “Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine.” That must have been quite a night.
From the perspective of making the information public, Lyndon Johnson was the first President to place an emphasis on American wines at White House functions. He understood that wine is not only a drink but also a business, and American wine creates jobs, generates tax revenue… and tastes good.
Demonstrating that he was quite different from Lyndon Johnson, and not just politically, Richard Nixon preferred French wines. Chateau Margaux reportedly was his favorite.
Ronald Reagan was more of an equal-opportunity wine drinker. At various stages of his life, he loved both American (primarily Californian) and French wines.
Another Presidential election will be coming up, with several candidates already declared. Many will call for them to publicly disclose their tax returns, but frankly, I’d be more interested in knowing what type(s) of wine they drink.