Monticello Wine Trail & Region, the true 4th of July Wine

Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence and the 3rd US President, loved wine and believed that it was critical for wine growing to occur in this new then burgeoning nation. He had two vineyards in Monticello and has been described as the first viticulturist of America. In his later years, Thomas Jefferson envisioned vineyards and wines from his native state. The history of wine culture at Monticello suggests the difficult time Jefferson had with the rewarding vinifera.

History of Wine Making During the Colonial Period

Between 1562 and 1564, French Huguenot settlers produced the earliest wine from Scuppernong grapes near a settlement in Jacksonville, Florida. During the colonial period, Virginia and the Carolinas made wine making an official goal in the charters, but it never took off because the settlers did not like the native grape flavors. For that reason, they tried to grow the familiar European Vitis vinifera varieties.

In California, the Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra established the first vineyard near San Diego in 1769. Pierre Legaux established one of the first commercial wineries in 1787. The problem with planting during the colonial period was with the native pests and vine diseases, which caused the failure of many vineyards.

Why is the Monticello Important to US History?

The Monticello wine region is important because it is not far from the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson. UNESCO made Monticello a World Heritage Site since 1987. The region has not just historical significance but a ravishing beauty that makes the area unique. Additionally, the Monticello wine region in Virginia reveals something about our third president, who helped to shape the nation. Franklin Delano Roosevelt once wrote, “More than any historic home in America, Monticello speaks to me as an expression of the personality of its builder.” There is no better place to celebrate the 4th of July than in Monticello, home to the author of the Declaration of Independence.

The First Monticello

Monticello was innovative not only in design but in the use of its local resources. At a time when England imported most of the bricks to the United States, Jefferson decided to mold and bake his own bricks, using resources of the local region. The grounds of Monticello provided Jefferson with timber, limestone and stone. Even the neoclassical mansion of Monticello was drafted by Jefferson. While he had no formal education of architecture, Jefferson had comprehensively studied architecture specializing in the Italian Renaissance and ancient Rome architecture. Years later, he became an accomplished architect who helped to design the Virginia State Capitol.

In 1770, the Jefferson family home at Shadwell burnt to the ground. This forced Jefferson to move into the South Pavillion of Monticello, a mere outbuilding, until the main house reached completion.

Jefferson's Monticello (Pond Reflection)
Jefferson’s Monticello (Pond Reflection) (Photo credit: Tony Fischer Photography)

Inspiration for a Second Monticello

When Jefferson moved to France to serve as a US ambassador from 1785 to 1789, the buildings of Paris left him awestruck. One of the Paris homes had a U-shaped design, a domed roof and colonnades. Upon Jefferson’s return, he had a new vision for Monticello, which he called the Second Monticello. The second was double the size of the original and filled with Jefferson’s ingenious inventions, Native American artifacts and momentos from his travels.

In addition to the architecture, Monticello is famous for its extensive gardens that Jefferson designed and monitored. As a connoisseur of European wines, Jefferson tried to plant a number of grape varieties at Monticello. While the majority of these grapes failed to thrive, Jefferson developed the title of America’s first viticulturist.

Monticello After Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was known for his lavish spending on books, wine and his beloved Monticello. When Jefferson died July 4, 1826, his daughter Martha had no choice but to sell the property due to an accumulation of debt. Uriah Levy bought the home, a real estate speculator and the first Jewish American to serve a whole career as a Navy officer. He and his nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy, were largely responsible for the renovation and restoration of the property. In 1923, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, a non-profit organization, bought the property. From that period on, the estate served as an educational institution and a museum.

Jefferson Vineyards Tasting Room
Jefferson Vineyards Tasting Room (Photo credit: m01229)

What does the Monticello Wine Trail Offer Wine Enthusiasts?

The tasting rooms at Monticello are not overly crowded, and the tasting fees cost little to nothing. Additionally, visitors receive the undivided attention of the vintners, managers and owners of the property. Virginia has more than 150 wineries with Monticello being the largest.

The epic story of the Monticello Wine Trail begins with Thomas Jefferson. He is a man who spent more than 30 years trying to establish the wines at his Monticello estate. Although Jefferson never succeeded in producing a bottle of wine, he would be proud to know that his vineyard dreams have succeeded and thrived more than 200 years later.