John Adlum was a Revolutionary soldier and surveyor who indulged his interest in grape cultivation and wine-making at a 200-acre farm and nursery in Georgetown. Like Jefferson, he advocated the development of domestic grapes rather than the importation of European varieties. He wrote two books on the subject, A Memoir on the Cultivation of the Vine in America, and the Best Mode of Making Wine (1823) and Adlum on Making Wine (1823); the first title was in Jefferson's library. Writing just a few months after leaving the President's House—where he had served a wide variety of the finest wines from Europe—Jefferson here seeks cuttings of a domestic wine that he believed produced "a very fine wine, ... exactly resembling the red Burgundy of Chambertin."
"While I lived in Washington, a member of Congress from your state (I do not recollect which) presented me with two bottles of wine made by you, one of which, of Madeira colour, he said was entirely factitious, the other, a dark red wine, was made from a wild or native grape, called in Maryland the Fox grape, but very different from what is called by that name in Virginia. this was a very fine wine, & so exactly resembling the red Burgundy of Chambertin (one of the best crops) that on fair comparison with that, of which I had very good on the same table imported by myself from the place where made, the company could not distinguish the one from the other. I think it would be well to push the culture of that grape, without losing our time & efforts in search of foreign vines, which it will take centuries to adapt to our soil & climate. the object of the present letter is so far to trespass on your kindness, & your disposition to promote a culture so useful, as to request you, at the proper season to send me some cuttings of that vine. they should be taken off in February, with 5. buds to each cutting, and if done up first in strong linen & then covered with paper & addressed to me at Monticello near Milton, and committed to the post, they will come safely & so speedily as to render their success probable. praying your pardon to a brother-amateur in these things, I beg leave to tender you my salutations & assurances of respect."
The wine that so pleased Jefferson was given to him by Gabriel Christie, a congressman from Maryland, and was evidently made from the native Alexander grape. The Alexander grape was first discovered in Philadelphia in the middle of the eighteenth century. Under Adlum's husbandry it became the first American grape grown commercially, but he enjoyed his greatest success with his later introduction of the Catawba grape. Adlum sent Jefferson the desired cuttings, together with a bottle of his wine, in March 1810 (see following lot).
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.