The Cabinet

of Dr. Callegari

All men were created equal, even if all wine wasn't

While President's Day is mostly a time to contemplate a new, unbelievably low interest rate on a Toyota lease or a jaw-dropping price on a Sealy Serta Perfect Sleeper (how better to honor President Washington than with a safe drive to a good night's sleep avoiding at all costs cherry trees and interventionist foreign policy?), maybe you're also thinking of proposing a toast, but worried you won't be able to decide whom to honor among the great statesmen to be remembered today.

Jefferson, America's first famous oenophile and a slaveholder who at least pretended to be ashamed of it, might seem like the obvious choice, especially if you celebrate President's Day by opening old, first-growth Bordeaux of dubious provenance, but allow me to make an out of the box suggestion: Filippo Mazzei. A close friend of Jefferson's, a zealous supporter and financier of the American Revolution, a doctor, a merchant, and a brilliant horticulturist, Mazzei gave a young America two of its most important gifts—a clever line for the Declaration of Independence and a serious attempt at planting vitis vinifera (aka the grape used for table wine). Though Mazzei's experiment with wine making in Virginia was ultimately unsuccessful, his vehement insistence that America and especially Virginia was perfectly suited to wine production supported Jefferson's dream of creating a new Bordeaux in his homeland. It's safe to say that dream has been realized now that the US produces nearly as much wine as France and Italy, and Virginia is firmly on the map of fine wine producing regions of the world. The other dream shared by Jefferson and Mazzei—to give life to the doctrine that all men were created equal (which Jefferson likely paraphrased from Mazzei's "Tutti gli uomini sono per natura egualmente liberi e indipendenti")—looks like it will require a little more toiling of the land, but what better way to celebrate this ambiguous President's Day than by raising a glass to an immigrant who brought us freedom and wine?

If you're interested in learning more about Virginia wine, their website is as useful as you might hope, but better yet try to get your hands on a bottle and taste history for yourself. Look out for Barboursville or Linden, two iconic vineyards making reliably good wines, and for grape varietals you can rarely find elsewhere, like Petit Manseng. Alas, Jefferson's own emphasis on states' rights remains a spiteful obstacle to the wine-soaked wonderland he imagined, and if you live in one of the 8 states that still doesn't allow direct winery-to-consumer shipping despite the Granholm decision you may find it hard to get your hands on Virginian wine. A good excuse to make a trip to the American wine heartland!

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