Home > History of Wine > “I intend, however, to have them examined”: George Washington’s 1785 Chateau Margaux

“I intend, however, to have them examined”: George Washington’s 1785 Chateau Margaux


Extract from Fenwick Mason & Company to George Washington, August 10, 1790, with Invoice. [4]

During the summer of 1791, George Washington received two orders of claret from the firm of Fenwick, Mason & Co. in Bordeaux.  These orders are of interest because they shed light on the quality of the late 18th century Bordeaux vintages.  From these order we do not know what George Washington nor his secretary Tobias Lear thought of  an order of 1786 Chateau Lafite. Fortunately, the assessment of the 1785 Chateau Margaux is preserved.

George Washington’s first order of claret from Fenwick, Mason & Co. met with calamity.  Placed on August 16, 1789, George Washington requested 26 dozen bottles of claret and 26 dozen bottles of Champagne. [1]  As Bordeaux was not the best location to order Champagne, 12 dozen bottles of the sparkling wine were sent from Rheims and 12 dozen bottles of “vins de grave” would come from Bordeaux.[2]  That winter the wine departed for New York via the French packet Jean Jacques.  It was not until July 9, 1790, that George Washington was informed that his wine had not made it to New York, instead due to damage to the ship from the very cold weather, the ship put into Brest where the wine was unloaded.  The cases were split open and a quarter of the bottles were broken. [3]

Fenwick, Mason & Co. sought to have any remaining bottles in Brest sent on to George Washington.[4]  Sadly these bottles were not insured.  Until those wine could arrive, they sent a smaller order of the sames wines from Bordeaux.  It is in the invoice dated August 10, 1790, that we learn that the claret was the 1785 Chateau Margaux.

The smaller, replacement order of wine arrived by the end of June 1791.[5]  On July 7, 1791, Tobias Lear wrote Fenwick, Mason, & Co. noting the arrival of the wine in “good order”.[6]  He specifically wrote that the “claret of the first shipment” that being the 1785 Chateau Margaux, was “pronounced very good”.


[1] “From George Washington to Wakelin Welch & Son, 16 August 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified February 21, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-03-02-0275. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 3, 15 June 1789–5 September 1789, ed. Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989, pp. 478–479.]

[2] “To George Washington from Fenwick, Mason, & Company, 5 December 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified February 21, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-04-02-0258. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 4, 8 September 1789 – 15 January 1790, ed. Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993, p. 364.]

[3] “To George Washington from Fenwick, Mason, & Company, 9 July 1790,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified February 21, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-06-02-0021. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 6, 1 July 1790 – 30 November 1790, ed. Mark A. Mastromarino. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996, pp. 38–40.]

[4] Fenwick Mason & Company to George Washington, August 10, 1790, with Invoice.  George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 4. General Correspondence. 1697-1799.  URL: https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mgw4&fileName=gwpage099.db&recNum=720&tempFile=./temp/~ammem_QE3I&filecode=mgw&next_filecode=mgw&prev_filecode=mgw&itemnum=19&ndocs=100

[5] “To George Washington from Tobias Lear, 23 June 1791,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified February 21, 2017, 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.]

[6] Tobias Lear to Mason Fenwick & Co, July 7, 1791. George Washington Papers, Series 2, Letterbooks 1754-1799: Letterbook 23, Aug. 26, 1790 – March 25, 1793. URL: https://www.loc.gov/item/mgw2.023/

 

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