Wine and the Presidents: Historic Selections of 3 Presidents
Presidents: Reagan, Clinton, Nixon with Historic Jefferson and Founding Father Comments
The history of Wine and the Presidents evolves with each passing decade and administration. Each President has his preferences when it comes to wine. The choice of a bottle for a White House function, especially a State Dinner, carries a particular political significance in many cases. State dinners are intimate affairs with only 120 guests seated. Can you imagine trying to chart the seating arrangement for an event given today’s political maneuverings? In the meantime, let’s take a look at three Presidents in view of their wine selections and our founding history.
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The Founding Fathers
The Founding Fathers loved their wine and spirits. As the above photo suggests, the list of drinks for the celebration of the drafting of the US Constitution included:
54 bottle of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 bottles of whiskey, 22 bottles of port, 8 bottles of hard cider, 12 beers and seven bowls of alcohol punch large enough that “ducks could swim in them.” They toasted the signing with the Madeira, George Washington’s favorite wine.Thomas Jefferson: His Place in Wine History
Most Americans are aware that Thomas Jefferson served as the United States Minister to France, Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State under George Washington, and was the third US President. Many people are not aware that he was America’s most famous wine expert. Jefferson’s notes on wine were originally considered by the French (along with 3 other wine experts) to help classify the Premier Cru Bordeaux wines.
Thomas Jefferson is also acknowledged in the Cité du Vin, the relatively new museum of wine in Bordeaux. The city named one of its auditoriums after Thomas Jefferson. This museum is a must-see stop in Bordeaux where you can see wine and winemakers from around the world. See my recent newsletters “A 72-Hour Bordeaux Getaway” and La Cité du Vin in Bordeaux, France: The World’s Premier Wine Museum” for more information.
There are over 40 “Jefferson was here” plaques around France including the one above (with me in the foreground) in Dijon, the main city in the Burgundy region of France commemorating a Thomas Jefferson visit. The Plaque reads in part: “Symbol of French- American friendship. Thomas Jefferson was ambassador to France 1785-1789 . Principle author of the American Declaration of Independence. Architect, Humanist, friend of LaFayette.”
As we moved into the modern era, American wines emerged out of the shadows of Prohibition. The Franklin Roosevelt administration and the US Congress abolished Prohibition with the 21st Amendment. FDR called Prohibition “a Stupendous Blunder.”
Nixon and China: Schramsberg Vineyards’ Blanc de Blanc, Napa Valley
In 1972 a formal relationship between the USA and China began. It was a remarkable political event. President Richard Nixon traveled to this previously economically-closed country to honor the occasion. Traveling with President Nixon to Beijing onboard Air Force One were a couple of cases of 1969 Schramsberg Vineyards’, Napa Valley, Blanc de Blanc, one of the earliest US sparkling wine. The owners of Schramsberg Winery, Jim and Jamie Davies, had no idea their wine would be used for the “Toast to Peace” with Chairman Zhou Enlai and President Nixon.
Only when a neighbor called and said, “Turn on your TV. Barbara Walters on the TODAY Show is talking about your wine,” did the Davies of Schramsberg Vineyards know about their wine being used for the “Toast to Peace.”
Actually, the Schramsberg sparkling wines have been among the most frequently served wines at official state functions.
President Ronald Reagan: Saintsbury Winery, Carneros, Napa Valley, Chardonnay
LBJ- President Lyndon Baines Johnson decreed that only American wines should become the wines served at State Dinners. Since that time American wines have been almost exclusively served in White House. The only real exceptions have been the mingling of anther country’s wines when that country’s head of state was honored.
Ronald and Nancy Reagan brought their Hollywood flair to state dinners. The Reagans’ wine service in the White House reached a level of interest not seen since Thomas Jefferson. Even though the Reagans lived in the Simi Valley, the wines served were the most diverse ever. California Zinfandel and Merlot were often served at the White House. In 1982 Open One – a joint venture between Baron Philippe de Rothschild from Chateau Mouton Rothschild Premiere Cru Bordeaux fame, and the Robert Mondavi Winery--was chosen as a centerpiece in 1987 for a dinner for French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac.
One such special occasion during the Reagan Administration was the November 16, 1988 State Dinner honoring United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Of Reagan she said,
“He won the decades-long Cold War without firing a shot.” - Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The Saintsbury Chardonnay was a perfect pairing with the Baby Lobster Bellevue. Saintsbury’s use of both Dijon and Musqué clones of the Chardonnay grape make it both a rich and fragrant Chardonnay, one of my favorite wines and wineries to visit in Napa Valley.
President Bill Clinton: Domaine Drouhin, Willamette Valley, Oregon, Pinot Noir
The Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir was served at President Clinton’s First State Dinner on June 14, 1994 for Japan’s Emperor Akihito and several other State Dinners by other presidents. The 1992 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir was paired with a grilled Arctic char, lobster sausage, and wild mushroom risotto.
Notably, the French Drouhin family was an early investor in the Willamette Valley, Oregon region. They found many similarities of terroir** between this Oregon valley and the French Burgundy region. Latitude, soil, and climate were similar in the two regions where Pinot Noir is king. Bill and Hillary Clinton were credited with bringing the first wine professional to the White House staff, Daniel Shanks, who had worked the vineyards and restaurants of CA. He chose this wine. For more information on the wines of the Willamette Valley, see these newsletters, “ Willamette Valley, Oregon. It’s Not Just About Pinot Noir” and “Four Seasons of Willamette Valley, Oregon.”
**What is Terroir? Terroir is a French term representing the special combination of climate, soil, latitude, rain, sun, geography, elevation and aspect, and growing conditions that are unique to a vineyard or viticulture region. It evokes a “Sense of Place.” It only took 37 English words for me to describe terroir. That is why the French term terroir is such a useful term for winemakers, viticulturists, and wine writers! Ask yourself, does this wine express the aromas, body, and flavor of its terroir? The great ones often do. – Tricia Conover, DipWSET®, CSS, AWE
2020 Chardonnay Saintsbury Winery, Green Acres, Carneros, Napa Valley $58
Wine Enthusiast, 93 Points
2018 Domaine Drouhin, Pinot Noir, Oregon 1/2 Bottle $27
Robert Parker, 94 Points
2019 Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc, North Coast, California $45
Wine Enthusiast ratings, Expected December 2022. 93 Points pending.
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