Presidents Day - Holidays and Wine

Wine has long been a tradition in celebrations and dinners of the US Presidency. George Washington, the first US president, enjoyed a variety of drinks. You can buy a replica of his Wine Bottle Coaster - a silver coaster that the entire bottle fits into, to keep it from condensing onto the table. I've also got a recipe for George Washington's Eggnog - although unfortunately George forgot to make a note of how many eggs to use! Experiment and see for yourself what blend tastes good. Given those cold winters in Pennsylvania, it's no surprise that he wanted some eggnog to keep warm with!

One of the best known wine proponents in the White House was Thomas Jefferson. He grew up as a farmer and tried for his entire life to get vineyards growing well in Virginia. He was the ambassador to France in the 1780s, and his favorite wines were Burgundies from the Cote d'or, Hermitage Rhones, and Medoc Bordeauxs. For dessert he enjoyed Sauternes and Tokaji.

In the 1840s, James K. Polk and his wife Sarah offered long, extravagant menus with up to six different wines on them. The wines ranged from ruby port to pink Champagne and Sauternes.

It took a few years before American wines began to be accepted by the White House. It was not until 1861 and Abraham Lincoln that they were served at an official White House function. It was actually Abraham's young wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, who put the local wines on the menu. One type that is mentioned by name was made from the Norton grape from Missouri, and created by German immigrants. Apparently the wines were much loved by those present!

Lincoln, like Jefferson, had quite the connection with wine and drink - his father was a distillery hand, and he himself ran a number of taverns.

In the 1870s during the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes, the temperance movement was taking hold. His wife, Lucy Webb, banned wine and alcohol from the White House. This ban didn't last past their years, though. Even during prohibition, wine was often found on the White House menu.

Prohibition began in 1919, and even at its birth it was a troubled decree. Many who voted for it believed that it would only apply to hard liquor, and were shocked when it meant that even beer and wine was illegal. Interestingly, the amendment allowed for 200 gallons a year to be made by home winemakers. These home winemakers created such a demand for grapes that many vineyards realized great profits on their grapes, selling at prices much higher than before or after prohibition. Prohibition stayed in effect until 1933, when President Roosevelt helped encourage its repeal.

John F. Kennedy in the 1960s was an enthusiastic fan of French wines, and would often serve Bordeaux to visiting dignitaries.

It was Lyndon B. Johnson who decreed that only American wines can be served at the White House, quite a change from the early days of the country. In a few years the menu offerings also changed to match. While the menu until the 1970s had been decidedly French, the menu now showcased the regional American dishes, and paired them nicely with American wines.

Celebrate President's Day with a bottle of your favorite American wine, and toast a long standing tradition of wine enjoyment!

Wine and Holidays
Wine in History

All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.