Home > History of Wine > “send me…six dozen best Bourdeaux red wine”: When Pichon Longueville came to America

“send me…six dozen best Bourdeaux red wine”: When Pichon Longueville came to America


This evening I will be attending a Chateau Pichon Longueville Baron tasting organized by Panos Kakaviatos (Wine Chronicles).   Panos describes the recent history of the estate as well as the impetus for this tasting in his post Château Pichon Longueville Baron: 1989-2010.  It was in 1850 that the estates of Pichon Longueville Baron and Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande came into being.  Prior to that point they were a single estate known as Pichon Longueville.  It is under this name that the wines first reached the American shores in 1805.

James Madison was no stranger to the charms of fine Bordeaux.  While Secretary of State under President Thomas Jefferson, he often ordered these wines straight from William Lee, the American Commercial Agent in Bordeaux.  James Madison was very much pleased by a shipment of “Vin de Graves” in 1804.  He found that “taking the price & quality together were so satisfactory” he ordered additional wine from the same sources.[1]  William Lee took matters seriously shipping James Madison 72 bottles of 1798 Chateau Haut-Brion and 240 bottles of Haut Brion petit Sauterne.[2]  This order clearly whet James Madison’s palate for the following summer he placed another order this time for “six dozen best Bourdeaux red wine” amongst other wines and oils.[3]  Incredibly, what William Lee chose to send to James Madison has never been published before.  The invoice is neither cited nor abstracted on the Library of Congress’ Founders Online, rather it is found in the digitized archives of James Madison’s correspondence.

Invoice from William Lee to James Madison. 12 September, 1805. [10]

Invoice from William Lee to James Madison. 12 September, 1805. [10]

William Lee’s invoice from Bordeaux dated September 10, 1805, lists 72 bottles of 1798 Pichon Longueville at F 5 per bottle for a total of F 360.  For reference the 1798 Chateau Haut-Brion were similarly priced one year earlier at F 4.5 per bottle.  By early accounts the estates of Haut-Brion, Latour, Lafite, and Margaux were regarded as “Premiere Classe” by such authors as William Franck in 1824.[4] Pichon Longueville in Saint-Lambert was regarded in the “Deuxieme Classe” both by French and English writers at the time and for decades to come. [5] One writer did take notice that these wines were sold “seldom under their real names.  When once taken away from the estates, they usually are named as if one of the wines of the first class.”[6]

An early American advertisements for 1798 Chateau Pichon Longueville. [11]

An early American advertisements for 1798 Chateau Pichon Longueville. [11]

From James Madison’s inventory and early advertisements we do know that the wines of Pichon Longueville appear to first make it to the American shores in 1805. [7]  Unfortunately, James Madison did not leave any indication of what he thought of the wine.  In fact, I have yet to find a direct comment on these wines from this period.  We do know that the 1798 vintage was highly regarded in England and France. Listed in England as one of three “first-rate” vintages between 1775 and 1842[8]  it was ranked second only to 1795 by William Franck.  The closest description falls to Alexander Henderson who, in describing “Leoville, Larose, Bran-mouton, and Pichon-Longueville” wrote that they “afford light wines of good flavor, which, in favourable years, have much of the excellence of the finer growth.”[9]  It seems then that in choosing 1798 Chateau Pichon Longueville, William Lee did send the “best” to James Madison.


[1] “From James Madison to William Lee, 7 February 1804,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-06-02-0409 [last update: 2014-12-01]). Source: The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, vol. 6, 1 November 1803 – 31 March 1804, ed. Mary A. Hackett, J. C. A. Stagg, Ellen J. Barber, Anne Mandeville Colony, and Angela Kreider. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002, p. 445.
[2] “To James Madison from William Lee, 20 June 1804 (Abstract),” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-07-02-0356 [last update: 2014-12-01]). Source: The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, vol. 7, 2 April–31 August 1804, ed. David B. Mattern, J. C. A. Stagg, Ellen J. Barber, Anne Mandeville Colony, Angela Kreider, and Jeanne Kerr Cross. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005, pp. 344–345.
[3] “From James Madison to William Lee, 14 June 1805,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/02-09-02-0526 [last update: 2014-12-01]). Source: The Papers of James Madison, Secretary of State Series, vol. 9, 1 February 1805–30 June 1805, ed. Mary A. Hackett, J. C. A. Stagg, Mary Parke Johnson, Anne Mandeville Colony, Angela Kreider, and Katherine E. Harbury. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011, p. 469.
[4] Franck, William. Traité sur les vins du Médoc et les autres vins rouges du département de la Gironde. 1824. Gallica Bibliotheque Numerique. URL: http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb30458723m
[5] Jullien, Andre.  Topographie de tous les vignobles connus … suivie d’une classification générale des vins. 1832. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=OMhMAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[6] MacGregor, John. Commercial statistics, a digest of the productive resources [&c.] of all nations. 1844. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=MrgTAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP7#v=onepage&q&f=false
[7] Advertisement. Date: Saturday, July 20, 1805             Paper: New-York Gazette (New York, NY)   Volume: XVIII   Issue: 6049   Page: 2
[8] The Penny Cyclopædia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful …, Volume 27. 1843. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=NeFPAAAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[9] Henderson, Alexander. The history of ancient and modern wines. 1824. UR: http://hdl.handle.net/2027/pst.000012700509
[10] The James Madison Papers. William Lee to James Madison, September 14, 1805. Includes bill of lading and invoice. URL: http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mjm&fileName=08/mjm08.db&recNum=966&itemLink=%2Fammem%2Fcollections%2Fmadison_papers%2Fmjmser1.html&linkText=6
[11] Advertisement. Date: Saturday, July 20, 1805 Paper: New-York Gazette (New York, NY) Volume: XVIII Issue: 6049 Page: 2

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