by Fred McMillin
for April 13, 1999


Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson
Born April 13, 1743


"I would go to hell for my country."

...Thomas Jefferson's reaction as he became U.S. Minister to France.


History tells us Thomas Jefferson would have loved today's Kendall-Jackson wine.

The Rest of the Story

On Jefferson's birthday, we're reminded of one of the factors that softened his attitude toward France. It was his discovery of the sweet wines of Bordeaux, named sauternes. He wrote "The white wine of sauterne...was so well received by the Americans...[that] I have persuaded our President, General Washington, to try a sample of thirty dozen bottles."

Now Jefferson was a strong advocate of developing winegrowing in America. So, the white dessert wine I'll sip in tonight's birthday toast will be made in America. It is a dilly.

Dessert Wine of the Day

1997 Late Harvest Chardonnay, California
Kendall-Jackson, Santa Rosa, CA.
Harvest—The shriveled, moldy grapes were picked in early December. However, the "mold" was the phenomenal fungus Botrytis cinerea, the same gray coating that in France produced the flavors Jefferson admired so much.
Yield of Juice— Only 80 gallons per ton instead of the typical 150 gallons.
Fermentation—It took 40 days and 40 nights!
Winemaker Randy Ullom's Comment—"Bursting with apricot, lime peel and honey. Everything a good sauternes should be, and more."
Production—Only 800 cases
Stored in oak?—Yes. Four months (in French, of course)
Rating—My panel gave it an EXCELLENT!
Price—$40 range (375 ml.)


About that order of sauternes for President Washington, Jefferson included a little for hundred twenty bottles.

Credit: Hugh Johnson's Vintage

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


WineDay Annex

More articles by
Fred McMillin


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