Much has been discussed and researched about George Washington’s likes and dislikes as far as food and drink are concerned. Some of his actual supply lists for Mount Vernon have survived into modern times. However, it is thought that many of the items he ordered were for entertaining guests, which he and Martha seemed to love to do. He enjoyed many wines that were available in his day, loved all sorts of meats and fowl, especially smoked meats, and liked to drink beer. He also loved nuts, which may be the reason his teeth broke off and had to be eventually replaced with his famous wooden set. But the general consensus on his favorite drink points to Madeira.
In Washington’s Day, Madeira must have been a welcome beverage after what must have been some rather poorly stored wines. With no refrigeration and a long time at sea to get imported wines to the shores of America, surely many wines were spoiled before they were poured in the New World.
The history of Madeira is an interesting one…originally the grape was probably imported to Portugal’s volcanic island in the Atlantic, which is some 530 miles away to the southwest (about 375 miles off the coast of Africa) via the wine merchants of Venice. Many wines may have found their way to these rich volcanic soils, but one of the first was Crete Candia Malvasia which arrived in the 13h Century. In the next two hundred years the Madeira Malvasia became well known throughout Europe…it’s maturation process was accidentally developed because of having to transport the wine to the mainland and other market areas, subjecting it to rough shipping conditions and often extreme tropical heat, all adding to the strong flavors that eventually developed in the wine. By the 16th Century it was decided to fortify the wine to 20% alcohol in order to better deal with this abuse…even so the rocking of the boat accelerated the aging process. Fortified Madeira, aged over long months on a rolling ship in the equatorial heat became a delicious rich wine. It did not take long for producers to realize that taking the wine to sea made it even more desirable and the most prized of all were the ‘vinhos da roda’…Portugese for wines that had made a trip around the world.
The fame of this extremely popular wine was spread largely by pirates who helped develop the distribution by occasionally invading the island of Madeira, and taking gold, silver sugar and, of course, wine…Madeira became the ‘Pirates choice.’ The pirates soon found that Madeira brought them a good price when resold into such markets as France. By the 17th century it was a regular import to the Colonies…and in the 18th century became a favorite of Benjamin Franklin, who no doubt promoted it to his friends. During the 18th Century one fourth of all the Madeira made was imported by the American colonies, and no wine was considered more prestigious.
George Washington drank a glass every day at dinner and Madeira is historically known to have been used in many celebrations such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.
In the 18th Century the sugar and wine industries of Madeira were largely controlled by English settlers who had come to the island and established themselves as local families a hundred years earlier. But in 1852 the vines were decimated by a mildew epidemic that forced many of the English families to leave the island, with their livelihood gone. The dreaded American scourge known as phylloxera also paid Madeira a visit and drove more producers into disaster. It took until the beginning of the 20th century for the revival of Madeira wine to come about and it was not until 1979 that the Madeira Wine Institute was founded. Today Madeira is popular worldwide, not just as a drinking wine but as a culinary ingredient. It is one of the wines that is still to this day traditionally crushed by foot.
643 Bee Street, Placerville
Tuesday: by appointment
Wednesday: by appointment
We're the closest winery to Hwy 50, at the "corner of" Hwys 50 and 49. Start your wine tour here. We have winery maps!
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