Home > History of Wine > Chateau Haut-Brion, Available in the United States for 250 Years

Chateau Haut-Brion, Available in the United States for 250 Years

A quick Google search for “Haut-Brion import Thomas Jefferson” returns a number of results.  Most of these results, including the Wikipedia entry for Chateau Haut-Brion, all state that Chateau Haut-Brion became the first recorded first growth wine to be imported to the United States.  The Wikipedia entry cites Karen McNeil’s  The Wine Bible (2001) followed by referencing Thomas Jefferson’s letter to his brother-in-law Francis Eppes dated May 26, 1787.  The Lea & Sandeman – Chateau Haut Brion page is even more generous stating “Haut Brion was the first Bordeaux wine known to have been imported into the USA…”.  Karen McNeil did not write that Chateau Haut-Brion was the earliest first growth sent to the United States.  She simply wrote that Thomas Jefferson had “purchased six cases to be sent from the chateau to Virginia”.[0]  As a result it is worth looking into this claim.

Chateau Haut-Brion. Cocks and Ferret. Bordeaux and Its Wines. 1899.

Chateau Haut-Brion. Cocks and Ferret. Bordeaux and Its Wines. 1899.

Thomas Jefferson’s letter of May 26, 1787, notes he was sending six dozen bottles of the 1784 vintage from Bordeaux.[1]   He felt this was the “only very fine” vintage since 1779.  As described in my post “I am in great distress for want of it, having none”: John Adam’s Inquiries about Bordeaux Wines Prior to Thomas Jefferson’s Classification of 1787 John Bondfield wrote to Thomas Jefferson on April 19, 1785, that he had forwarded, “four Cases containing thirty six Bottles each of our first Growth”.  The citations state that the Massachusetts Historical Society holds the invoices and bills of lading but it turns out that they are held by the Library of Congress.  Chateau Haut-Brion was considered one of the first growths at the time so it is possible that it was shipped to the United States in 1785.  Unfortunately, these additional documents do not detail the specific wines which were shipped.

June 21, 1783. []

June 21, 1783. [2]

Additional references to Chateau Haut-Brion may be found in historic newspapers.  There are at least two earlier advertisements for the sale of Chateau Haut-Brion in the United States during the period of Thomas Jefferson’s first known importation.  Alexander Gillon of Charleston, South Carolina advertised on June 21, 1783, “Claret in cases of three dozen bottles in each case, of the favourite qualities of Haut Brion, de Grave and Julian”.[2]  Cornelius Ray of New York advertised on September 1, 1785, “A FEW hogsheads and cases of the best Bordeaux Claret, being the first growths of Haut-Brion and Latour”.[3]

February 23, 1764. []

February 23, 1764. [4]

However, the earliest importation of Chateau Haut-Brion belongs to Walter Shee and Sons of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  They placed five advertisements between February 23, 1764, and April 12, 1764, that included “best Haubrion and other French clarret in cases and hogsheads”.[4]  Walter Shee’s advertisements state he has “a compleate assortment of European and India goods”.  This same phrase appears in a short advertisement from January 5, 1764, which includes the first run date of December 1, 1763.[5]  A subsequent advertisement indicates the goods were “imported in the last vessels from England”.[6]  This importation date is corroborated by the November 30, 1763, advertisement that had been run since June 1, 1763.[7]  This advertisement note the goods came in on Captains Hardy’s and Bolizho’s ships from London thus a different set of vessels than what carried the Chateau Haut-Brion.

This is an exciting find for it pushes back the earliest known availability of Chateau Haut-Brion prior to the formation of the United States.  In moving from 1787 to 1764 we now know Chateau Haut-Brion has been enjoyed on these shores for exactly 250 years this spring.

[0] McNeil, Karen. The Wine Bible. 2001.
[1] “From Thomas Jefferson to Francis Eppes, 26 May 1787,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-11-02-0362, ver. 2014-05-09). Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 11, 1 January–6 August 1787, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, pp. 378–379. URL: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-11-02-0362
[2] Date: Saturday, June 21, 1783 Paper: South-Carolina Weekly Gazette (Charleston, SC) Volume: I Issue: 19 Page: 4
[3] Date: Thursday, September 1, 1785 Paper: New-York Packet (New York, NY) Issue: 520 Page: 3
[4] Date: Thursday, February 23, 1764 Paper: Pennsylvania Journal (Philadelphia, PA) Page: 3.  See also The Pennsylvania Gazette. February 23, 1764.
[5] Date: Thursday, January 5, 1764 Paper: Pennsylvania Journal (Philadelphia, PA) Issue: 1100 Page: 6
[6] Date: Thursday, January 12, 1764 Paper: Pennsylvania Journal (Philadelphia, PA) Issue: 1101 Page: 3
[7]Date: Thursday, November 10, 1763 Paper: Pennsylvania Journal (Philadelphia, PA) Issue: 1092 Page: 6

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