Home > History of Wine > “I am very well satisfyed with the Cote Rotie”: A brief look at Cote-Rotie and Hermitage in the late 18th century

“I am very well satisfyed with the Cote Rotie”: A brief look at Cote-Rotie and Hermitage in the late 18th century


Thomas Jefferson visited Cote Rotie and Hermitage during his tour of Southern France in 1787.[1]  He wrote in detail about the vineyards, the best estates, and of course prices.  New first quality Cote Rotie sold for 150lt per piece whereas new first quality Hermitage sold for 225lt.  If the Hermitage was old the price increased to 300lt.  The increase in price reflects not only quality but also, perhaps, additional powers.  A year earlier in 1786, Abigail Adams 2nd, daughter of John Adams and Abigail Adams, wrote to her brother John Quincy Adams about three gentleman who joined her for Sunday dinner.[2]  One was suffering from a “disagreeable situation of the mind” which he called the “blue devils”.  She reported that he felt much better after drinking Hermitage and Madeira with their dinner.

There is little written about this period in the history of Cote-Rotie and Hermitage.  John Livingstone-Learmonth writes in The Wines of the Northern Rhone (2005) that documented Cote-Rotie history jumps from the 16th to the mid-nineteenth century!  However, there is more written about Hermitage perhaps because the wines were better regarded and by 1765 the main vineyard owners were aristocratic or noble families.  During this period Hermitage was shipped to Burgundy and Bordeaux.  In Bordeaux, the Hermitage wine was used in blending but it was also exported primarily to England.

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After visiting Cote-Rotie and Hermitage in 1787, Baroness Elizabeth Craven sent bottles of Hermitage back to England via Marseilles.[3]  She wrote that the best Cote-Rotie came from Mr. de la Condamine.  This sentiment was shared that very same year by Thomas Jefferson who mentions him first in his list of seven best producers.  Baroness Craven continues that the “grapes being almost broiled by the sun” produced a wine “of a red and strong kind – reckoned very fine”.  But it was not to her taste.  It was the Hermitage that she enjoyed, particularly the white which she found “so much better than the red”.  Priced at 3 livres per bottle she had it shipped home.

Some of the Cote-Rotie and Hermitage which left Bordeaux made it to the American shores before Thomas Jefferson ever set foot in the region.  We know this because Charles Carroll of Annapolis wrote his son Charles Carroll of Carrollton about sending some wine on March 20, 1772.[4]  In this letter Charles Carroll of Annapolis requested that his clerk William Deards send 10 or 12 dozen bottles of “Cask Wine th[a]t came from France”.  Of this he wanted 3 or 4 dozen each of Cote Rotie and Burgundy.  Charles Carroll of Annapolis was sure to clarify that “Let Him take Care not to send Hermitage insted of Cote-Rotie, you like the Hermitage, I am very well satisfyed with the Cote Rotie”.

We do not yet know where the Cote-Rotie and Hermitage was sourced from.  We do know that in 1774 and perhaps in 1773, Charles Carroll of Carrollton was ordering Claret by the hogshead from the firm of Lawton and Browne in Cork, Ireland.  It is possible they were the source since Cote Rotie and Hermitage were also shipped from Bordeaux.

For those who did not order these wines by the cask, white Hermitage, red Hermitage, and Cote-Rotie were available by the bottle from merchants along the east coast of America. Some of this wine came straight from Bordeaux and even from Cap-Francois in the French colony Saint-Domingue which is now Haiti.  My favorite advertisement occurred for one period in 1774 when you could buy “Best Bourdeaux Claret, in Hermitage Bottles.”

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[1] “Notes of a Tour into the Southern Parts of France, &c., 3 March–10 June 1787,” Founders Online,National Archives, last modified July 12, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-11-02-0389. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 11,1 January–6 August 1787, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, pp. 415–464.]

[2] “Abigail Adams 2d to John Quincy Adams, 9 February 1786,” Founders Online,National Archives, last modified July 12, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-07-02-0010. [Original source:The Adams Papers, Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 7, January 1786 – February 1787, ed. C. James Taylor, Margaret A. Hogan, Celeste Walker, Anne Decker Cecere, Gregg L. Lint, Hobson Woodward, and Mary T. Claffey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005, pp. 33–46.]

[3] Craven, Elizabeth.  A journey through the Crimea to Constantinople. 1787. Hathi Trust Digital Library.

[4] “Extracts From The Carroll Papers”, Maryland Historical Magazine, Volume 19. 1919.

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