Home > History of Wine > “old wine of Lafitte”: George Washington’s order of 1786 Chateau Lafite

“old wine of Lafitte”: George Washington’s order of 1786 Chateau Lafite


Note the "L F G W" on the Invoice from Fenwick, Mason & Co to George Washington. March 28, 1791. LOC.

Note the “L F G W” on the Invoice from Fenwick, Mason & Co to George Washington. March 28, 1791. LOC.

In 1791, through the assistance of Thomas Jefferson, President George Washington placed a second order for claret from the firm of Fenwick, Mason & Co. in Bordeaux.[1]  The firm of had just been established three years earlier in Georgetown.[2]  Fenwick, Mason & Co. was a short-lived partnership between John Mason, the son of George Mason, along with John and James Fenwick.  That summer of 1788, John Mason traveled to Bordeaux bearing an introduction to Thomas Jefferson.

The order for the President’s wine included 14 cases for himself and 14 cases for Thomas Jefferson.  Though George Washington’s order also included Frontignac and Sauternes, it is the claret that is of interest for this post.

The firm of Fenwick, Mason, and & Co. wrote to Thomas Jefferson on February 10, 1791, that the Count de la Pallu, proprietor of the estate of Segur, which included Chateau Latour, had no wine that he could ship to President George Washington which would “do justice to his estate”.[3]  The firm offered to find a replacement which turned out to be “wines of Lafite, the Estate of Mr. Pichard (formerly Segur)”.[4] The cases of wine were received that summer in “good order” and placed in the cellar.[5]

Advertisement for 1786 Chateau Lafite and Chateau Latour. [8]

Advertisement for 1786 Chateau Lafite and Chateau Latour. [8]

There were some 5 cases of 48 bottles each of Chateau Lafite (then spelled Lafitte) from the vintage 1786.  This was considered “old wine”, not being of the current vintage, and was, perhaps, the best old vintage available.  In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote that the 1784 vintage was the best since 1779 when discussing Chateau Haut-Brion.[6]  This was most likely a generic vintage comment for the following year Thomas Jefferson ordered the 1784 vintage of Chateau Lafite but was told that none was left and was sent the 1786, though not yet ready to drink, instead.[7]

Sadly, we do not yet know what George Washington thought of the 1786 Chateau Lafite.  After the arrival of the cases, Tobias Lear wrote to George Washington in June 1791, that “how their contents are I know not. I intend, however, to have them examined to know whether they may be depended on or not.” [9]  The following month Tobias Lear followed up writing that “Of these wines none have yet been proved”.[10]  How the 1786 vintage stacks up remains a mystery!


[1] “To Thomas Jefferson from Fenwick, Mason & Co., 10 February 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-19-02-0041. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 19, 24 January–31 March 1791, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974, pp. 266–267.]

[2] Whatford, Mark. “John Mason and the French Revolution”. July 18, 2013  Gunston Hall Blog.  URL: http://gunstonhallblog.blogspot.com/2013/07/john-mason-and-french-revolution.html

[3] “To Thomas Jefferson from Fenwick, Mason & Co., 10 February 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-19-02-0041. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 19, 24 January–31 March 1791, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974, pp. 266–267.]

[4] “To Thomas Jefferson from Fenwick, Mason & Company, [29 March 1791],” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-19-02-0179. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 19, 24 January–31 March 1791, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974, p. 630.]

[5]  See “To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 12 June 1791,” Founders Online,National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-08-02-0181. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 8, 22 March 1791 – 22 September 1791, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 261–264.] and “From George Washington to Tobias Lear, 19 June 1791,” Founders Online,National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-08-02-0193. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 8, 22 March 1791 – 22 September 1791, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 275–278.].

[6] “From Thomas Jefferson to Francis Eppes, 26 May 1787,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-11-02-0362. [Original 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.]

[7] “To Thomas Jefferson from John Bondfield, 19 April 1788,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-13-02-0019. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 13, March–7 October 1788, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956, p. 96.]

[8] Date: Tuesday, August 12, 1794 Paper: Philadelphia Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) Volume: XI Issue: 1813 Page: 2

[9] “To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 23 June 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified December 6, 2016, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-08-02-0201. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 8, 22 March 1791 – 22 September 1791, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 294–299.]

[10] Tobias Lear to Mason Fenwick & Co, July 7, 1791. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 2 Letterbooks. URL:

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