Are you curious about how wine has played an essential role in politics? How did a bottle with Thomas Jefferson’s initials become the center of a wine scandal in 1985? What does pulling a Nixon mean? Which wine connected John F. Kennedy and James Bond?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with Fred Ryan, publisher and CEO of the Washington Post and author of Wine and The White House.
You can find the wines we discussed here.
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- How did Fred develop his fascination with presidential politics?
- When did Fred start to become interested in the world of wine?
- What role does wine play in politics?
- What’s the story behind Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote, “No nation is drunk when wine is freely available”?
- How did Thomas Jefferson revolutionize the American wine scene?
- Where in Bordeaux did Fred find a presidential wine request?
- How was Thomas Jefferson ahead of the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855?
- What insider elements did Fred include on the cover of Wine and The White House?
- What can we learn about wine in the White House from Thomas Jefferson’s meticulous records?
- Why was an FBI forensic team called in to investigate a bottle of Château Lafite wine?
- How did wine help to break up the drunken free-for-all that was Andrew Jackson’s inauguration?
- How did First Lady Lucy Hayes earn the nickname Lemonade Lucy?
- Why did Woodrow Wilson have to seek special approval to take his wines to his new home after leaving the White House?
- What instructions were the White House wait staff given for Winston Churchill’s visit?
- What was the US attitude towards wine after Prohibition ended?
- Which wine-filled events stood out in Roosevelt’s time in the White House?
- What happened to the wine in the White House cellar when it burned down?
- I loved how Fred’s stories illuminated how important a role wine has played in US and global politics, from diplomatic dinners and trade disputes.
- I also liked how handling wine revealed the personalities of the presidents, from pulling a Nixon to Regan birthday celebrations.
- The history of the US is also revealed through the stories about Jefferson and other early presidents.
- And the story about the forensic scientists involved in discovering the fake Jefferson bottle is worthy of a CSI episode.
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In doing this book, I went back and one of the biggest takeaways was, how much of an interest that presidents and political figures, even in the earliest days the United States, had in wine. - Fred Ryan Click to tweet
John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, criticized his political opponent, Henry Clay, by saying he had bad taste in wine. - Fred Ryan Click to tweet
Wine has moved in and out of politics, but it seems to always be increasing, never going away. - Fred Ryan Click to tweet
Thomas Jefferson, 60 years earlier than 1855, had given his own review of the wines of Bordeaux and he’d ranked them the same way. So he actually was decades ahead of the 1855 classification. - Fred Ryan Click to tweet
Lucy Hayes took this beautiful glassware, these decanters and beautiful glasses, and she used them only for the service of fruit juice. So she was given the nickname Lemonade Lucy. - Fred Ryan Click to tweet
About Fred Ryan
Frederick J. Ryan, Jr., publisher and CEO of the Washington Post, has been an aficionado of both wine and White House history for most of his life. Growing up in Italy and California, he developed an early interest in wine and its production, studied winemaking and its history, and now participates in a joint winemaking venture in Napa Valley. Ryan’s fascination with wine parallels his lifelong interest in the American presidency. He served in a senior staff position in the Ronald Reagan White House and as Reagan’s post-presidential chief of staff. Ryan currently serves as chair of the Board of Directors of the White House Historical Association, of the Board of Trustees of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, and of the Wine Committee of the Metropolitan Club of Washington, D.C.
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- 1976 July 7 Ford and Queen
- 1511: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library
- 1126433: Henry C. Haller Collection/White House Historical Association
- Glassware and Silver Service Pieces: Bruce M. White for the White House Historical Association
- Kennedy James Bond Menu: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
- Obama China State Dinner: Barack Obama White House Archives Online
- Reagan France State Dinner: Henry C. Haller Collection/White House Historical Association
- State Dining Room Views
- 1902 Roosevelt: White House Historical Association
- Eisenhower State Dinner: White House Historical Association
- Herblock Cartoon: Library of Congress
- Jefferson Wines Provided at Washington: New York Public Library
- Reagan Toasting Gorbachev: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
- Reagans Toasting Aboard Air Force One: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
- Signed Chateau Mouton Rothschild: Bruce M. White for the White House Historical Association
- Reagan Toasting: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Fred Ryan 0:00
When presidents welcome foreign visitors, they showcase the great things in America; great food, great entertainment and great wine. In various ways it’s kind of moved in and out of politics, but it seems to always be increasing, never going away.
Natalie MacLean 0:12
Absolutely. And wine is such an important part of the culture, especially for those of us who love it, that I can imagine you’d want to showcase that to visiting dignitaries as much as you’d want to showcase your musical talent and other things that the country has to offer. Let’s go back to Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. What was his quote? No nation is drunk where wine is not dear or something. I’m probably jumbling it
Fred Ryan 0:36
He was advocating a different tax on whiskey and wine. And his point was we don’t want people to go to whiskey because it’s cheaper. And he was advocating that the tariffs be removed from wine and left on whiskey, so he made a comment that no nation is drunk when wine is freely available.
Natalie MacLean 1:00
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations? That’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie MacLean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please and let’s get started!
Welcome to Episode 122. Are you curious about how wine has played an essential role in politics? How did a bottle with Thomas Jefferson’s initials become the centre of wine scandal in 1985? What does pulling a Nixon mean? And which wine connected John F. Kennedy and James Bond? Our guest this week has the answers for you, plus lots of great wine tips and stories. And I’ve got a bonus for you; in addition to this podcast, I’d love for you to join me for the première watch party of the video of this conversation that I’ll be live streaming for the very first time on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube next Wednesday, March 24 at 7pm Eastern. The video will show you the pictures and other visual elements that we discuss in the podcast. I’ll also be jumping into the comments on all three platforms as we watch it together, so that I can answer your questions in real time. It’s like the Netflix version of the podcast. Plus, you can talk to me and ask me questions, in real time, as we watch it together and you’ll see what other people thought of this conversation and answers to their questions.
Before I introduce our guest, let me just say you could win a personally signed copy of his gorgeous new book Wine and the White House if you comment on the social media post I created about the contest. Just pick your favourite platform, Instagram, Facebook or YouTube and comment on my posts before April 7. I’ll select a winner randomly from those who participate. You get a bonus entry for every wine loving friend you tag or if you reshare the post in your stories. In the show notes, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class and where you can find me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube Live video every Wednesday at 7pm including this evening and next week. That’s all in the show notes at Nataliemaclean.com/122.
Now on a personal note, before we dive into the show, I’ve been working on my third book on wine. And going a little cross eyed actually, correcting the chronology, since it’s a memoir. Thank goodness, I kept copious notes, but it’s still a jog for my brain to go back to parts of my life that happened almost 10 years ago now. It reminded me not just how fast life flies by but the importance of taking time to remember it. My most vivid memories are those infused with really deep emotion both positive and negative. And it’s a lot like wine itself. I’m finding the bottles I remember best are those that blended with strong feelings; always because of the person I was with. Do you feel that way too? Let me know. Okay, on with the show.
Natalie MacLean 4:39
Fred Ryan is the publisher and CEO of The Washington Post and he’s been an aficionado of both wine and White House history for decades. So he grew up in Italy and California; probably developed a natural interest in wine. And he studied winemaking and has even participated in a joint winemaking venture in Napa Valley. He served as Ronald Reagan’s post Presidential Chief of Staff and currently serves as the chair of the board of directors for the White House Historical association; the organisation that published this gorgeous book. And he joins me now from Washington DC. Welcome, I’m so glad you’re here with us Fred
Fred Ryan 5:21
thank you Natalie, it’s a pleasure to be with you
Natalie MacLean 5:23
Wonderful! Well I’m so impressed with this book; we’re going to dive into that very soon but first let’s talk more about what led you to this book. How did you become fascinated with Presidential politics?
Fred Ryan 5:36
Well I’ve been interested in history, my family has been interested in politics and as a student my major actually was political science. I had from my college days this deep interest in politics in particular and you can’t say politics without studying the presidency and the White House so that led me to a specific interest in what happens in the White House; what’s it like to be in there and I, eventually, as you mentioned got the chance to work in there and see firsthand
Natalie MacLean 6:01
Right, oh that’s fantastic and so how many Presidents have you met over your lifetime?
Fred Ryan 6:06
Well I have been very fortunate because having worked in politics and then worked for former President Reagan, where he stayed in touch with Presidents, and I’m in the media business now, so I have met actually, most of the Presidents in my lifetime; I think 10 Presidents. So I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do that and it gives a personal dimension, because when I’ve met them, particularly interested in wine, either sometimes we’ve talked about wine, or I’ve wondered what their wine interests were, and that led me as I was doing this book to want to research a little bit about each of those Presidents
Natalie MacLean 6:38
That’s fantastic. Now you have this dual interest in wine. I can see part of it might come from where you grew up, but how did you really get interested in wine as well?
Fred Ryan 6:48
Well as you mentioned I lived in Italy at the time, I was below the drinking age, but I did have a chance to try a little bit of Italian wine and learn a little bit about it and watch how it was made. Actually our next door neighbours made wine, they grew grapes, they made wine and I remember as a little kid every day they were bringing a jug of wine over and give it to my parents and then they would come back at the end of the day and they’d want the empty bottle, it would be a big bottle; they didn’t quite consume as much as our Italian neighbours did but living in California at a time when the California wine industry was really taking off so it was a chance to kind of see that firsthand and enjoy it as well
Natalie MacLean 7:24
Oh wow! and what years were you in California? Was it back when Robert Mondavi was getting started or what was
Fred Ryan 7:30
I was in California from through the 70s to late 80s and watched the California wine business just take off and become a national and an international with names, you know as you mentioned, like Robert Mondavi and Turley and Warren Winiarski and so many people who were leaders in elevating California wine to the place it is in the world today
Natalie MacLean 7:51
Wow yeah it’s pivotal time for California wine and they’ve never looked back; I mean it’s such an important wine category that we have here in Canada, very, very popular. So let me just ask before again we get into the specifics; Do you think drinking wine is a political act?
Fred Ryan 8:07
Well it certainly takes place in political environment; sometimes of course during the official events where Presidents participate; there’s always the diplomatic aspects of the toasts. In doing this book I went back and one of the biggest takeaways was how much of an interest that Presidents and political figures, even in the earliest days of the United States, had in wine, and I found one comment just for example, where our sixth President, Jefferson being our number one President in terms of wine interest, but John Quincy Adams, our sixth President, criticized his political opponent Henry Clay by saying he had bad taste in wine
Natalie MacLean 8:43
What was he drinking from boxed wine or something?
Fred Ryan 8:46
I’m not sure, I was interested to see what was John Quincy Adams drinking that was so much better than what Henry Clay was drinking
Natalie MacLean 8:54
Oh that’s hilarious, that’s great quote! Why do you think wine and politics are so intertwined? I mean they seem to be a natural fit, but what’s your take on that?
Fred Ryan 9:04
I think a number of things have caused this;
One: Jefferson who I alluded to earlier, the third President of the United States, they’ve described him as the founding father of wine in America; it was just one of his passions and he, having been in France as America’s emissary in Paris, he travelled around the wine regions of France and Italy and took copious notes, and he purchased wines there, and when he returned he was so passionate about wine that he shared that passion with other American Presidents, including George Washington, and then his successors. His passion kind of elevated wine into the American presidency and then over the years it became alcohol as it was popular or unpopular; they took on a political dimension and then most recently in the White House when Presidents welcome foreign visitors, they showcase the great things in America, great food, great entertainment and great wine and that is a statement of elevating American products. So in various ways it’s kind of moved in and out of politics, but it seems to always be increasing, never going away
Natalie MacLean 10:04
Absolutely and wine is such an important part of the culture, especially for those of us who love it, that I can imagine you’d want to showcase that to visiting dignitaries as much as you’d want to showcase you know your musical talent and other things that the country has to offer. So let’s go back to Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States as you mentioned, what was his quote? No nation is drunk where wine is not dear or something? I’m probably jumbling it
Fred Ryan 10:31
He made the quote where he was advocating a different tax on whiskey and wine and his point was we don’t want people to go to whiskey because it’s cheaper and he was advocating that the tarriffs be removed from wine and left on whiskey so he made a comment that no nation is drunk when wine is freely available
Natalie MacLean 10:51
hmm well I’ve got to support that; he’s definitely got my vote. Now he lived in, is it Monticello, is that how you pronounce it in Virginia? And did he bring back vine cuttings from Bordeaux and try to plant them there? What was he doing with wine?
Fred Ryan 11:07
Yes his estate is not too far from Washington DC, Monticello, and while he was in France as I mentioned earlier, he was meticulous in learning about French wine and he learned ways to bring it to the US. Prior to that time, the most popular wine in the United States was Madeira and it was because it was a wine that could make the journey across the Atlantic, with the rough seas and the heat in the hull of a boat; it could make that journey and sometimes even be better than when it left but more delicate wines, now you know Madeira is a fortified wine, more delicate wines couldn’t make the journey in the way it was done at that time. But Jefferson actually spent time, I found records where he actually found the best shipper, who could do it with minimum damage, and he found the company that would put it in the barrels, on the waggons and could get the barrels to the port with both less breakage and also less thievery, I guess you want to call it, because some of these shippers would drink the wine as they were taking it to the port. But he perfected or improved anyway, how the wines came, and then he offered his broad knowledge about different wines on different occasions. So by the way while he was in the White House, he designed the first White House wine cellar. There had been no wine cellars. You know George Washington, when he was President, never lived in the White House; he was our first President and then our second President, Adams lived there briefly but it really wasn’t finished when Jefferson, as you mentioned was the third President, moved in. So Jefferson said where’s the wine cellar and there wasn’t a wine cellar, so he built one right on the front of the White House and you mentioned Montecillo, his home; he built a replica of the one at the White House at his home and Monticello and when he left office as President he had an Italian winemaking friend who was from a family who still makes wine today, they’re in their 26th generation of making wine in Tuscany. His name is Philip Mazzei and Philip Mazzei brought the cuttings, they planted the cuttings, and they tried to grow the grapes but unfortunately it just at that time, they couldn’t make the grapes to make a good quality wine, so Jefferson never got the chance to see wine grown in Virginia but today, as you know, Virginia is really producing some spectacular wines
Natalie MacLean 13:14
Oh yeah and it’s such a beautiful part of the country to visit like on a wine vacation when we can get back to travelling further abroad
Fred Ryan 13:21
Natalie MacLean 13:22
Now Jefferson wrote a letter to that famous Bordeaux dessert wine house Château d’Yquem; what was he doing? Well why was he writing them?
Fred Ryan 13:32
Well you know Natalie one of the fascinating things in doing this book was I just kept coming across more information, as you mentioned it is 456 pages long, weighs five and a half pounds for those who want to do their bicep curls
Natalie MacLean 13:46
But it’s so beautiful, I mean just the illustrations; but yeah continue
Fred Ryan 13:53
But I kept finding new material and here I know the winemaker at Château d’Yquem, and I was telling him about doing this book, and he said well it’s interesting because I have a letter sitting on my desk from Thomas Jefferson and I said well tell me about this letter; I don’t think anyone even knows of its existence. And on his desk, you know Château d’Yquem had been in the same family for well over 200 years and Thomas Jefferson wrote to the family that owned Château d’Yquem, this was in 1790, he said a new American President, General Washington, is interested in wine and I think he would enjoy tasting yours; please send him 30 dozen bottles
Natalie MacLean 14:31
oh my gosh
Fred Ryan 14:32
Yes and he said and while you’re at it send me 10 dozen bottles too
Natalie MacLean 14:37
All the same ship
Fred Ryan 14:40
So here with this letter that’s sitting on this desk, the original Thomas Jefferson letter, and they were kind enough to let me duplicate it in the book. It is one of the many original Thomas Jefferson and other Presidential documents that we were able to get access to and include in this book
Natalie MacLean 14:52
Oh that’s fantastic but he sort of went for the top tier; because you know a bottle these days of a d’Yquem would go for hundreds of dollars or whatever; so it’s just send over 30, actually make that 50 cases while you’re at it, it’s all the same.
Fred Ryan 15:05
Another thing with Jefferson that I learned, I didn’t know, was, of course, there’s the famous 1855 classification of the wines. And that resulted in the Premières Crus; of the five wines of the first growths from 1855, and as you know, they’re only four and then Mouton was elevated later; but of the four that were in there, Thomas Jefferson, 60 years earlier than 1855, had given his own review of the wines of Bordeaux. And he’d ranked them the same way. So he actually was ahead, decades ahead of the 1855 classification.
Natalie MacLean 15:40
That is so impressive. So he had quite the palate. He wasn’t just a fan of wine, he really knew what he was talking about.
Fred Ryan 15:47
Yes, he could discern quality.
Natalie MacLean 15:50
Wow, yeah, and he went right for it. Don’t bother sending me your plonk over here, just send the Château d’Yquem. So I’m going to show some pictures, because some of them are related to Jefferson. So let me just choose the correct window here. First, I’m going to start with your book
Fred Ryan 16:08
The cover, the goal on the cover of the book, I spent a lot of time on it, was I wanted to put you in the seat of the President of the United States, while wine is being enjoyed. And this is a composite picture. It was taken from an actual state dinner that took place during the Trump administration for the Prime Minister of Australia. And we added various elements, including the decanter that you see right in front, that is the actual decanter of our fourth President, Madison. And you can see how ornate it is. It has distinctive engraving and seals and eagles and all. And that’s actually in the White House collection. So we added that. And then another thing you’ll notice is, I know as you and your wine aficionado listeners note, there’s a little bit of a violation of normal procedure that every wine glass is filled. The red and the white and the champagne are all filled at once, which typically at a state dinner, they’re filled with each course. But we want to just give the full Wine Experience. So it’s designed in that way. But it’s meant to let you feel as though you are the President of the United States and you’re enjoying wine at the White House.
Natalie MacLean 17:12
Lovely. I love the setting. And yes, it is from the perspective of sitting at the President’s seat. Wow, that’s great, very creative. This is Jefferson’s handwriting, is it not?.
Fred Ryan 17:25
Yes, Jefferson kept a detailed list of every wine that he served while he was President. And you can see as you provided, on this date, the specific date, what was served, how much of it was served, ranging from Madeira, to the wines of Rhône, I mean, all the different wines that he served, the volume that was served each occasion. It’s a phenomenal historic record. To show you how much attention to detail a President of the United States would spend on the wines that he was serving to his guests at the White House.
Natalie MacLean 17:59
He’s so meticulous, I’m surprised he had time for writing policy and that well drafted US Constitution. So I guess he was a man of many talents. So let’s look at this. Oh, this next related isto Jefferson. I alluded to it in my intro, tell us what’s engraved on this bottle.
Fred Ryan 18:18
Yes, it’s a very old shaped bottle from that period. And it has the date 1787. Lafite, all engraved on the side. There’s no paper label, of course. And then at the bottom, it has TJ. And that bottle had a very interesting history in the mid 80s. As you may recall, this collection of undiscovered rare wines was made by a fellow over in Paris. And he indicated that he was doing some construction work on his house and knocked out a wall and behind the wall were these bottles of Lafite and other top wines from the 18th century. And this one particularly had TJ on the side; Lafite. And it turned out that was the same year that Thomas Jefferson was there. And it was known that he enjoyed Lafite and he would use the initials TJ. So this wine was reviewed by all the experts that went to auction, and Malcolm Forbes, great American publisher and his son, Kip Forbes, also tremendous wine enthusiasts and a great business person, decided they wanted to buy this bottle of wine. And it had been certified as original by Christie’s; an auction was taking place in London, so that Forbes had a museum in New York that they wanted to put it on display. So Kip Forbes flew to London, he bid on this, the bidding went back and forth and back and forth, got out of hand. In the end, he paid $155,000 for this single bottle of wine. Put it on his private plane. He flew it back to New York, put it on display in the museum. And unfortunately, the curator staff in the museum had really not considered the delicacy of the item they were displaying. And after it had been on display for a while the cork loosened and sunk inside the bottle, and the contents were destroyed. So it was a very expensive investment that was lost. And then to compound things, another wine collector had purchased some bottles that were believed to have been from Thomas Jefferson. And he wasn’t sure. So he hired a team, including former FBI forensic agents to track the bottle and to find out what was happening. And it turned out they discovered that the engraving was not done by hand, it was done by a power tool. And no power tools existed, of course, in the 18th century, and that the bottles were fake, and that the other bottles as well, were fake. And that word got back to Malcolm Forbes. So he had a great line. He just dismissed the whole thing. And he said, I just wish Thomas Jefferson had drank the damn bottle.
Natalie MacLean 21:01
I bet he did. Oh my gosh, that’s a great story. Oh, my gosh, one of those bottles, is that the basis for the book Billionaires Vinegar?
Fred Ryan 21:08
Yes, exactly right. Billionaires Vinegar talks about this bottle. And the other ones that a fellow named Koch from Florida, who is an incredible wine collector, who would purchase a number of these bottles, and he was determined to get to the truth. And he’s the one who hired the experts to trace this and get to a final decision on it.
Natalie MacLean 21:25
Well, if you have the means to buy the wine, I’m sure you have the means to investigate it so good on him. All right. Well, let’s keep going to the seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, tell us about the inauguration and his love for wine.
Fred Ryan 21:41
Well, Jackson was considered a kind of a frontier common man, that was kind of a term used to describe him, and he decided that he wanted to have an open inauguration. So they basically just open the gates to the White House, open the doors to the White House, and then anybody come who wanted to, and it turned into a drunken brawl, people were jammed in the place. They were pulling drawers out to see what was in there. They were crawling in and out of the windows, it was an absolute mess. It was out of control. And smartly, the staff in the White House decided the only way to end it was to take the alcohol out of the White House where it was being served and put it on the front lawn. And that would move the crowd outside because they wanted to drink more. So they finally were able to get things under control by moving the alcohol outside so the crowd could drink it there. But despite his reputation as a common frontier man, Jackson was ranked pretty high when it came to the Presidents and the amount of wine they served and the quality of wine they serve. He made sure his guests were, after the inaugural, well entertained.
Natalie MacLean 22:42
Well as he himself was, did he die of gout?
Fred Ryan 22:46
Yeah. A number of President’s died of gout and cirrhosis of the liver. So they may have been indulging a little bit too much in alcohol at the time,
Natalie MacLean 22:56
Very dedicated to making sure everyone had a good time at the White House. Now we get the opposite extreme with Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th. President, 1877 to 1881. His wife had a nickname.
Fred Ryan 23:09
Yes. Well, I think a lot of us know that Prohibition took place in the United States and that was 1920 to 1933, where the constitution outlawed alcohol. But before that, there was a movement called the temperance movement, and it was kind of somewhat religious, driven and wove in and out of politics in different regions of the country. But the temperance movement gained strength at different periods. And Rutherford B. Hayes was President during a time when the temperance movement was strong. And his wife, Lucy Hayes, was one of the temperance leaders. And they had a dilemma, because at the beginning of his administration, in 1877, there was a very important state visit that was coming to the White House. It was the son of the Russian Tsar, who at that time, that was a very important relationship to the United States. And the diplomats were saying, of course, you must serve alcohol. This is a visiting Head of State, it will be a faux pas if we do not. And he was hesitant, but the Hayes’s finally relented, and they allowed the alcohol to be served. It was the only time during the entire presidency for four years that alcohol was allowed in the White House. and Mrs. Hayes, Lucy Hayes, took this beautiful glassware that we’re talking about earlier, these decanters and beautiful glasses, and she used them only for their service of fruit juice. So she was given the nickname Lemonade Lucy because of the fruit juice that she served at the White House,
Natalie MacLean 24:32
Oh, wow. That would be no fun. There you go. You have all types. This whole range is just amazing in terms of their Presidents and their relationships to wine. Now, President Woodrow Wilson, what did he do? The Volstead Act, was the one that enacted Prohibition. But what did he do on the first, I guess reading, if you would call it of the Volstead act? What was his approach?
Fred Ryan 24:57
That’s we were talking about a moment ago. That’s when Prohibition officially began, when a constitutional amendment was passed. And then the Volstead Act was the legislation that was meant to implement it. And it banned the sale, transport, or production of alcohol. And Woodrow Wilson was President and he vetoed it, which American Presidents can do; Congress passes a law and they veto it. And that means I’m rejecting this law. But the Congress has the power to override the veto, meaning two thirds of Congress must vote to override. And Congress felt so strong about this they overrode his veto. So the Volstead Act passed. And he actually had an interesting experience. He was a wine enthusiast himself. And he had an impressive cellar that he’d accumulated, and had with him while he was President. And when he left the White House in 1921, at the end of his term, he wanted to take his wine with him, his wine cellar, and under the Volstead Act, it was against the law to transport wine even to his new house in Washington, DC. So he had to get specific regulatory approval for him to take his wine out of the White House and drive it about three or four miles away to the new home that he was going to live in Washington, DC.
Natalie MacLean 26:06
Dedicated, and did he say something about the French in relation to wine at the Versailles Treaty?
Fred Ryan 26:14
Yes, it was, as you know, the Treaty of Versailles was the end of World War One. And Woodrow Wilson was in Paris for the signing of the Treaty. And after they signed the treaty, the Prime Minister of France pulled him aside and handed him a glass of French wine. And he said, I hope you enjoy this wine because when you get home, you will not be able to have any wine. Woodrow Wilson thoroughly enjoyed that glass of wine before he got back to the United States,
Natalie MacLean 26:37
I’ll bet he savoured it .Alright, we’re going to talk about President Franklin D. Roosevelt and how he prepared to entertain British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who is quite a character,of course, loved his wine, all types, but tell us about that.
Fred Ryan 27:01
Well, the Prohibition, just to continue with that theme, ended under Roosevelt’s administration. In fact, he signed the law ending Prohibition, and his famous words afterwards was, “This feels like a good time for a beer” and he had a drink to celebrate it but he invited, of course, Winston Churchill, his counterpart, Prime Minister of England to the United States, and Churchill is known for his enjoyment and consumption of alcohol. And I was able in doing the research to find the instructions that the White House waitstaff had during the time that Churchill was visiting Roosevelt, and it said, for breakfast, be sure there’s plenty of sherry, for lunchtime. wine, and brandy, and for dinner, scotch and champagne.. He certainly drank well, while he was at the White House
Natalie MacLean 27:53
Prodigious appetite! What did Churchill say about a magnum of wine at lunch or something like that.
Fred Ryan 28:00
It’s one of my favourite quotes. One thing is, you notice in the book, just to add another dimension to it, I’ve taken on almost every page there’s a short two sentence, three sentence quote or blurb, something or someone a President or someone famous has said about wine. There’s one right there. And I love the one by Churchill, he said, a magnum, which you know, is a double sized bottle of wine. He said, a magnum of Claret is the perfect size for two gentlemen to enjoy over lunch, especially if one is not drinking.
Natalie MacLean 28:33
Got to love him. I forget which dinner he was at, but somebody was sitting beside someone. This is an old story, an old chestnut. But he’s sitting beside a lady who said, you know, Sir, you are drunk. Do you remember that one?
Fred Ryan 28:49
This woman was apparently quite critical of him and she said, You are drunk. You are an embarrassment. You are drunk, and he said, Madam, I am drunk now. But I will be sober tomorrow. You are ugly tonight, and you will be ugly tomorrow.
Natalie Maclean 29:08
Wow. What a wit. President Harry Truman 1945. Now we were talking about how generously the wine flowed in for many Presidents. But what was Harry Trumans style?
Fred Ryan 29:22
Well, Harry Truman, he followed Roosevelt, when Roosevelt died in office. And of course, that was just following Prohibition and the United States had really moved away from being a wine enjoying country because two things had happened. One was because Prohibition had wiped out most of the wine producers in the United States, the only ones that stayed in business were the ones that could claim they were doing it for religious purposes. And if that’s true, I can tell you a lot of monks and nuns and priests must have been drinking a lot of wine because there was still a lot being produced. But that was one and then secondly, during the war, there was really no importation of wines from Europe or anywhere else. America had essentially become a cocktail nation. That’s when cocktails were in their prime. And Truman allowed wine to be served in moderation. He didn’t have a lot of it. It wasn’t so central to his presidency, so he would serve wine, but he would just make sure they were a little slow in refilling your glass. So guests at the Truman White House were not overly indulging in wine.
Natalie MacLean 30:23
Should have paired him up with lemonade Lucy; sounds like the no fun party. I’m going to screen share again, just to jump back because we’ve got a few beautiful settings here of entertaining. This is Roosevelt’s dining room, I believe, all set up for a special event. Beautiful, beautiful setting.
Fred Ryan 30:43
Theodore Roosevelt, the first Roosevelt, our 25th President, you can tell that entertaining was quite elaborate then. And this was quite a big banquet. And if you look closely, you’ll see multiple glasses, at least four in front of each person. So Roosevelt was one who did serve wine at the White House. They called him the Rough Rider, kind of a brave explorer driven man of bigger than life proportions. But one thing I found was his alcohol consumption was not necessarily bigger than life. But he did. He had a daughter, who was while he was in the White House, one that was married and one that had her debutante party. And in the course of my research, I found the notes where it was clear by the waitstaff that a lot of wine had been served in both of those occasions.
Natalie MacLean 31:27
Did someone come out as a debutante when they were 16? Or was it older?
Fred Ryan 31:31
I’m not sure what the age was. While he was President though, they decided to just take over the White House and let her invite all of her friends over for a dance and an overnight party and the wine flowed freely through that.
Natalie MacLean 31:43
Why not? Birthday parties; may as well live it up while you’re there. This is Eisenhower’s state dinner setting.
Fred Ryan 31:50
Yes, of course, the White House had been renovated. A lot of people when you talk about the White House now, it was built about 200 years ago, it’s burned and been rebuilt. And I learned an interesting thing by the way when it was burned. Thomas Jefferson had been President. He was our third President; it was burned during our fourth President, Madison. And we all learned in school about how there’s this famous portrait of George Washington, and Dolly Madison, the President s wife said save that portrait and the staff took it off the wall. And even though the White House burned, that portrait was saved, and it’s back on the wall in the White House today. But I was wondering, okay, we know about the portrait, when the British burned the White House, it was in 1814. I want to know what happened to the wine. It was in the wine cellar that Thomas Jefferson had built. Well it turns out the British burned the White House and then they left to go to the Capitol building to burn the Capitol. While they were burning the Capitol, the American soldiers arrived at the White House. And they discovered this wine cellar, a White House burned to the ground. But there’s this wine cellar with all these bottles in it. So the American soldiers drank the wine, they drink the wine that was in the White House wine cellar. But with the image you have now, the White House was rebuilt again in 1952. And that’s the new design of the state dining room at the White House that you’re showing here, set up for a state dinner.
Natalie MacLean 33:03
Natalie MacLean 33:11
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Fred Ryan. Here my takeaways. Number one, I loved how Fred’s stories illuminated the important role wine has played in US and global politics, from diplomatic dinners to trade disputes
Two I also liked how handling wine revealed the personalities of the Presidents, from pulling a Nixon to Reagan’s birthday celebrations.
Three, the history of the US is also revealed through the stories about Jefferson and other early Presidents.
And four, the story about the forensic scientists involved in discovering the fake Jefferson bottle, I think is worthy of a CSI episode.
You can win a personally signed copy of Fred’s gorgeous new book Wine in the White House if you comment on the social media post I created about the contest. Just pick your favourite platform, Instagram, Facebook or YouTube and comment on my posts before April 7. In the show notes, you’ll find a link to this post, the full transcript of our conversation, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class, and where you can find me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube Live video every second Wednesday at 7pm including this evening. That’s all in the show notes at Nataliemaclean.com/122. You won’t want to miss next week for part two of this fascinating conversation with Fred Ryan. In the meantime, if you missed episode one, go back and take a listen. I chat with author Pete Hellman about the shadow world of wine forgery; in the book “In Vino Duplicitas”, you’ll find out a lot more about that fake Jefferson bottle and how to avoid getting duped yourself with fraudulent wine. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
Pete Hellman 35:05
There was a book in 1960, came out in 1960, I think by maybe an anthropologist named David Moore. It was called The Big Con, and he followed around master swindlers, con men, who would strike up conversations with strangers and all aimed at getting the strangers’ money. David Moore says the one thing that he learned from all these master con men was they’re very proud. They do not take anyone’s money, you thrust it into their hands. And that’s what Madoff did, you know people begged him to take their money and invest it and people, basically begged Rudy for these mythic vintages that nobody else could supply. You want an 1867 Château Lafite or Latour? Rudy could get it for you if he had it, and he had a backstory as to where he could get these wines, which was plausible, but in the end, he was just a real con man, and he lied the way you and I openly tell the truth.
Natalie MacLean 36:07
If you liked this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who’d be interested in the stories and tips that Fred shared. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week.
Natalie MacLean 36:30
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Nataliemaclean.com/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers!