by Fred McMillin
for February 20, 1998


Winery of the Week

George Washington and the Vine

Prologue

1759—George Washington helps finance a German winegrower, Maurice Pound, cultivate German Riesling vines on the Potomac River. The vines died, and so did the project.

1773—George Washington helps finance an Italian winegrower, Philip Mazzei, cultivate Italian and other European vines in Virginia. The vines died, and so did the project.

1783—French Minister of State Chretien Malesherbes offers to send General Washington European vine cuttings. Clearly, Washington has had it up to here with such efforts, and writes that he'll pass. "Several Gentlemen of my acquaintence...have (attempted) to cultivate the foreign grape, for Wine but none have well succeeded."

...Quotation from "Washington in Eastern America," Morton.

The Rest of the Story

Since President Washington's disenchantment with the European vines in America started with German cutting, our Winery of the Week is German. In fact, it was founded during Washington's last year as president, 1797. It is still family owned and operated, the Egon Müller winery. It's one of Germany's greatest wine estates. The original tract on the Saar still has some Riesling vines from the last century. (The Saar is a tributary of the Mosel in southern Germany.)

The Wines—Egon Müller Wines

The "Slow Food Wine Guide" calls the Müllers "great, classic Saar" wines. It called one of their Scharzhofberger Rieslings "a near perfect wine." The Scharzhofberger is imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, phone (212) 355-0700, N.Y.C. They range from the crisp Kabinett style to the higher-sugar types. We think you'll be impressed; I'm sure President Washington would have been, since that's what he was trying to produce on the Potomac.

Postscript

When Washington was president, his wine orders were not skimpy. In 1790, his order of French champagne was for 40 cases. Also from France, Thomas Jefferson sent the President "a sample" of the glorious Chateau d'Yquem dessert wine—30 cases!


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 and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.



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