This is the weekly installment of Fabulous Friday Feasts: a collaboration between Aimee Plesa, the Middletown Food Examiner, Byron Lape, the Cincinnati Craft Beer Examiner, and Timothy Gabelman, the Cincinnati Wine Pairing Examiner. We are working hard together to deliver a delicious meal experience, from beginning to end, for all of our audiences. We hope you enjoy!
When most Americans think about serving an alcoholic beverage on the Fourth of July, they tend toward beer… in overwhelming majorities. According to IRI InfoScan data, in 2006, the Independence Day holiday period wasthe number one occasion for sales and servings of beer in the United States, ahead of Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Super Bowl Sunday. Beer sales during the Fourth of July holiday also contribute to the billions of dollars of economic activity generated by the beer industry annually. In 2006, this activity accounted for 1.4 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.
Yet out Founding Fathers were avid wine drinkers, as we will show, prompting the question: what wine would our Founding Father drink on this year’s Independence Day with Aimee’s delicious Menu?
Of course, before we can answer this question, we need to identify the leading Founding Fathers of our great nation.
The term “Founding Fathers” was coined by then-Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding in his keynote address to the 1916 Republican National Convention. Historian Richard B. Morris, in his 1973 book Seven Who Shaped Our Destiny: The Founding Fathers as Revolutionaries, identified the following seven figures as the key founding fathers: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton.
As you might imagine, Benjamin Franklin was quite fond of wine. He even printed winemaking instructions in one of his publications, to help the public learn how to turn those wild grapes in their back meadows into wine.
In his Letter to Abbé Morellet (1779), Mr. Franklin writes:
“We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy. The miracle in question was only performed to hasten the operation, under circumstances of present necessity, which required it.”(emphasis added)
Others of our Founding Fathers were just as fond of wine, though, including Thomas Jefferson. A polymath, Jefferson achieved distinction as, among other things, a horticulturist, political leader, architect, archaeologist, paleontologist, musician, inventor, and founder of the University of Virginia
When President John F. Kennedy welcomed 49 Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962 he remarked, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, served as Minister Plenipotentiary to France under then-president, George Washington.
In 1787, he visited the Bordeaux region and while at Chateau Y’quem, a Sauternes producer, wrote, “Sauterne. [sic] This is the best white wine of France and the best of it is made by Monsieur de Lur-Saluces.” Jefferson ordered 250 bottles of the 1784 vintage for himself, and additional bottles for President George Washington.
On May 25, he visited Chateau Haut-Brion, describing the terroir, “The soil of Haut-Brion, which I examined in great detail, is made up of sand, in which there is near as much round gravel or small stone and a very little loam like the soils of the Médoc.” His notes placed Haut-Brion among the four estates of first quality, with the entry, “3. Haut-Brion, two-thirds of which belong to the Count de Fumel who sold the harvest to a merchant called Barton. The other third belongs to the Count of Toulouse; in all, the chateau produces 75 barrels.” Chateau Haut-Brion became the first recorded First Growth wine to be imported to the United States, when Jefferson purchased six cases during the
travels and had them sent back to his estate in Virginia.
It should come as no surprise that out Founding Fathers held French wine in such high regard; the relationship between the U.S. and France can be traced to the earliest days of the American Revolution, when Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette served under General Washington in his army.
At news of the Marquis’ death President Andrew Jackson ordered that Lafayette be accorded the same funeral honors as John Adams and George Washington. Therefore, 24-gun salutes were fired from military posts and ships, each shot representing a U.S. state. Flags flew at half mast for thirty-five days, and “military officers wore crape for six months.” The Congress hung black in chambers and asked the entire country to dress in black for the next thirty days.
Every year, on the Fourth of July, an America flag is placed in a joint French-American ceremony at the Marquis de Lafayette’s grave.
America’s most elite minds and leaders supported the wines of France, not merely, though, because of the political friendship between the two great nations, but also because the wines had even then achieved a global reputation for superiority. It would not be long before America worked to produce wines that achieved the level of French excellence.
The first commercial vineyard and winery in the United States was established by an act of the Kentucky Legislature on November 21, 1799. The vineyard was located overlooking the Kentucky River in Jessamine County, Kentucky and was named First Vineyard on November 5, 1798. The vineyard’s current address in 5800 Sugar Creek Pike, Nicholasville, Kentucky.
By 1860, America’s top wine producer was Ohio and Cincinnati was the chief city in the U.S.’s wine trade. Thanks for a slew of grape growers that focused on native grapes, America’s wines were unique and distinct from the Old World wines that our Founding Fathers would have purchased in their travels to France.
In sixty year’s time, though, the passage of Prohibition in 1920 would destroy America’s wine industry and leave a hole in many state’s agricultural bases and economies. With the repeal of Prohibition and the so-called “great experiment,” America’s wineries began to thrive again.
Immigrant farmers, yearning for the wines of the lands of their birth, and pioneering families began planting Vitis vinifera grape vines in all areas of the U.S. But for all of these efforts, American wines were seen as inferior to the wines of Europe, and especially of France. That all changed in 1976.
To celebrate the bicentennial of America’s independence, British wine merchant Steven Spurrier organized a blind wine tasting in Paris for the top American and French producers of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. All eleven judges at the competition were French (an American, Patricia Gallagher, was allowed to attend and taste, but her scores were not included in the final average), and no one in the world thought that the American wines had the least shot of winning.
In both the white and red wine competitions, the California wines won. (In true competitive spirit, I hear the chants of “USA! USA! USA!” every time that I think of this outcome.)
To many in the wine world, this remarkable achievement signaled that American wines had finally been elevated to the same level as the leading producers of Europe.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the leading names of the American wine trade were hailed as rock stars within the small, but thriving, world-wide wine (the first www, thank you!) community. Robert Mondavi, Ernest and Julio Gallo, Fess Parker, and others who set the standard for wine excellence enjoyed an international following.
At present, America is the fourth largest wine producing nation in the wold, behind only France, Italy, and Spain; the state of California alone produces more wine than all of Australia.
So, the question remains, what wine would our Founding Fathers drink with Aimee’s amazing Independence Day menu?
If you have the means, go ahead and shell out the $500 per bottle price that the current First Growth vintages (like Chateau Haut-Brion) of Bordeaux can fetch, because claret blends of Cabernet Sauvignon would be beautifully paired with ribs.
However, when I ponder the two-hundred year history of American wine, I think that our Founding Fathers, should they have had the opportunity to drink some of these outstanding wines, would have been quite happy to have toured California, Oregon, Washington, New York, and even Ohio to find superior wines!
Check out Aimee’s amazing and patriotic menu here and remember to look into Bryon’s craft beer pairings (statistically, you are going to buy and serve beer on this holiday, so you had might as well serve good beer!). As always, we in the food and beverage community urge our readers to drink responsibly and we wish you a very happy Fourth of July!
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Also, be sure to check out my ongoing series of articles: Fabulous Friday Feasts, a collaboration with Aimee Plesa and Bryon Lape; The Rules, which discusses the rules of food and wine pairing; and Cincinnati Secrets, which explores various wine destinations in Cincinnati!