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As the Crow Flies: Historic Images of “Les Quatre Premiers Grands Crus du Medoc”

June 16, 2014 1 comment

Pierre Aussel published his La Gironde a Vol d’Oiseau Ses Grands Vins et Ses Chateaux in 1865.[0]  This was a comprehensive treatment of the wines and vineyards of the Gironde that included history, production methods, and commerce.   Pierre Aussel then collaborated with Alfred Danflou in producing a second edition of his book.  Together they explored the vineyards and chateaux marveling at both the monumental and picturesque.  They were captivated by the crenellation, turrets, porticoes, and pinnacles such that they wondered why they had never seen photographs of the chateaux in a gallery.  They decided to capture “ces monuments ancients et moderns de notre viticulture national” as photographic art.  This effort was manifested in the first edition of Les Grands Crus Bordelais which was published in 1866 and focused on 15 of the first and second growth wines.[1]  The second edition was published one year later in an attempt to be complete.[2]  This edition spanned two volumes which covered the first, second, third, and fourth growths as well as Sauternes.

I have included images of the four first growths from both editions for comparison.   The photographs that appear in the first edition are more casual.  That of Chateau-Lafitte contains a road in the foreground where a horse and cart are stopped on the side.  The driver has turned his head to watch the photographer.  The photograph of Chateau Margaux was taken outside the gate and is slightly angled, leaving the sense of being an observer looking in.  The image of Chateau Haut Brion is of the now uncommon side.  The photographs in the second edition show more studious composition.  The name of Chateau Lafitte changed to Chateau Lafite.  The images are immersive with better perspective such as that of Chateau Latour that may have been taken on a ladder.  Chateau Margaux was photographed within the gate and Chateau Haut Brion now features the famous facade.  Please review the pictures I have included in this post but I strongly recommend you review the archive quality images referenced below.

Chateau-Lafitte a Pauillac

Chateau-Lafitte a Paulliac [1]

Chateau-Lafitte a Pauillac [1]

Chateau-Lafitte a Pauillac [2]

Chateau-Lafite a Pauillac [2]

Chateau-Latour a Pauillac

Chateau-Latour a Pauillac [1]

Chateau-Latour a Pauillac [1]

Chateau-Latour a Pauillac [2]

Chateau-Latour a Pauillac [2]

Chateau-Margaux a Margaux

Chateau-Margaux a Margaux [1]

Chateau-Margaux a Margaux [1]

Chateau-Margaux a Margaux [2]

Chateau-Margaux a Margaux [2]

Chateau Haut Brion a Pessac

Chateau Haut Brion a Pessac [1]

Chateau Haut Brion a Pessac [1]

Chateau Haut Brion a Pessac [2]

Chateau Haut Brion a Pessac [2]


[0] Aussel, . La Gironde a Vol d’Oiseau. 1865. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=651AAQAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[1] Danflou, Alred. Les Grands Crus Bordelais.  1866.  Gallica Bibliotheque Numerique. URL: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8625650m
[2] Danflou, Alred. Les Grands Crus Bordelais.  Premiere Part.  1867.  Gallica Bibliotheque Numerique. URL: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b86256511

“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

March 28, 2014 1 comment

In a curious way, my current research which began with Thomas Jefferson and led to James Madison has circled back again to Thomas Jefferson.  In looking at original scanned bills of lading for descriptions of bottle and case marks I eventually ended up reading Thomas Jefferson’s famous Bordeaux Classification of 1787.  This was after I read John Adam’s earlier inquiries into the growths of Bordeaux.  I find the history of wine is rich in subjects worthy of further exploration and the origins of Thomas Jefferson’s classification is one of them.  Be wary of any wine writer or blogger who states they have writer’s block.  With natural curiosity and intrepidness one should accumulate an ever increasing list of subjects to write about.  One should simply be handicapped by a lack of time.

Dept. De La Gironde. Levasseur, Victor. 1856. David Rumsey Map Collection.

Dept. De La Gironde. Levasseur, Victor. 1856. David Rumsey Map Collection.

Almost one decade prior to Thomas Jefferson’s May 1787 tour of Bordeaux, John Adams met the negocient J. C. Champagne at Blaye on April 1, 1778.[1]  He informed John Adams that “of the first Grouths of Wine, in the Province of Guienne, there are four Sorts, Chateau Margeaux, Hautbrion, La Fitte, and Latour.”  Later that day John Adams took tea and went for a walk with John Bondfield the American Commercial Agent at Bordeaux.  Almost two years later in April 1780, John Adams wrote from Paris to John Bondfield that he had “Occasion for a Cask of Bordeaux Wine, of the very best Quality”. [2]  In this letter he enquired as to “a list of the various Sorts of Bordeaux Wines, their Names, Qualities, and Prices”.  It appears that John Adams perhaps forgot his previous conversation and was unaware of Sir Edward Barry’s Observations, historical, critical, and medical, on the wines of the ancients (1775).  In this book Sir Edward Barry considered the “principal growths” to be “the Pontac Wines, Haut Brion, Chatteau Margouze, Lafitte, Latour, &c.”[3]  John Adams’ questions were also proposed to Bordeaux merchant B. de Cabarrus Jeune and William Vernon Jr.  It is possible his enquiries were related to his “Honor to be a Minister Plenipotentiary from the United States of America”.[4]  Perhaps John Adams wanted to celebrate his appointment.

The response from William Vernon Jr. has not been found.  Of the other two, the letter from B. de Cabarrus Jeune was received first on April 8, 1780.[5]  Of the “old wines of Medoc” he listed “Haut Brion, St. Julien, or Chateau Margaux” and that they were drinkable “only after 4,5, or 6 years.  He noted but did not specify that there were “some growths” which were less known but provided “excellent wines.” John Bondfield used terminology in his list which Thomas Jefferson would echo later, the “most esteemed for private Use of the first second and third qualities”.[6]  His list in the letter appears to be broken down by price into four groups, three red and one white.  Thus the most expensive red was “Vin de Segeur ou lafit” which sold at 2000 livres per Ton.  The second most expensive included “Chatteau Magot”, “St. Julien”, and “Cannon” which sold from 800-1200 livres per Ton.  The third most expensive included “Medoc comprehending various qualities” from 400-800 livres per Ton.  The sole grouping of “Vin Blanc” included “de Bersac” and “de La Grave” at 360-400 livres per Ton.

For Sale. [9]

For Sale. September 1, 1785. [9]

These particular Bordeaux wines were available in America and advertisements of this period appear to link the idea of specific names to tiered quality or growths.  Alexander Gillon’s advertisement in Charleston, South Carolina on June 21, 1783, lists “Claret…of the favourite qualities of Haut Brion, de Grave and Julian”.[7]  These wines were shipped by a Bordeaux gentleman whose house shipped “none but wines of the first quality.”  Messrs. Willing, Morris & Swanwick of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania advertised “Of the first Growth” consisting of a few dozen bottles of unnamed 1777 “Bordeaux CLARET”.[8]  Cornelius Ray of New York City linked his advertisement “of the best Bordeaux Claret” to the specific “first growths of Haut-Brion and Latour” on September 1, 1785.[9]  Cornelius Ray does not specify which ship imported his claret but later that month Thompson & Lennox, also of New York, imported claret on the brig Friendship.[10]  They had bottles of “Claret de Segur, Hauthbrion, Margaux, and Medoc” which was “warranted of the first quality.”  By April 13, 1792, one could buy “French claret of the second growth” in Charleston, South Carolina.[11]

The wine related correspondence of Thomas Jefferson is peppered with exchanges involving John Bondfield.  On April 19, 1785, John Bondfield wrote to Thomas Jefferson that he had forwarded “four Cases containing thirty six Bottles each of our first Growth”.[12]  I do not yet know what these four first-growths were but I have enquired with the Library at the Massachusetts Historical Society for scans of the original invoices and bill of lading.  I would normally wait for such correspondence but this is post is a quick exploration of an idea.  Regardless, John Bondfield was maintaining his own three-tiered classification of the growths of Bordeaux and after sharing part of it with John Adams he did so with Thomas Jefferson.

Bordeaux. Chapman and Hall, London. 1832. David Rumsey Map Collection.

Bordeaux. Chapman and Hall, London. 1832. David Rumsey Map Collection.

Two years later Thomas Jefferson famously noted on his tour of Bordeaux during May 24-28, 1787, that there were “4. Vineyards of first quality”.[13]  These included “Chateau Margau”, “La Tour de scur”, “Hautbrion”, and “Chateau de la Fite”.   The order is different in his April 23, 1788, “Memorandum On Wine” where he lists “1 Chateau-Margau”, “2 la Tour de Segur”, “3.Hautbrion”, and “4. De la Fite”.[14]  This order is preserved in his February 20, 1793, “Memorandum to Henry Sheaff”.[15]  Thomas Jefferson famously enjoyed these wines for he began to place orders through John Bondfield such as that of February 22, 1788, where he requested “250. Bottles of his wine de la Fite of 1784”.[16]  This vintage was no longer available and with the 1786 not yet ready, John Bondfield recommended “Vins d’hautbrion” being next in quality.[17]  Chateau Haut-Brion does not appear in John Bondfield’s 1780 list so perhaps his rankings had changed.  Thomas Jefferson clearly documented his classification of the wines of Bordeaux.  I cannot help but wonder whether the inquiries of John Adams or the opinions of John Bondfield were in his thoughts as he walked amongst the “celebrated vineyards”.


[1] “1778 April 1. Wednesday.,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/01-02-02-0008-0003-0001, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Adams Papers, Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, vol. 2, 1771–1781, ed. L. H. Butterfield. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961, pp. 293–294.  URL: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/01-02-02-0008-0003-0001
[2] “From John Adams to John Bondfield, 2 April 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-09-02-0075, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 9, March 1780 – July 1780, ed. Gregg L. Lint and Richard Alan Ryerson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996, pp. 103–104. URL: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-09-02-0075
[3] Barry, Edward. Observations, historical, critical, and medical, on the wines of the ancients. 1775. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=yTlKAAAAYAAJ&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[4] “From John Adams to John Bondfield, 2 April 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-09-02-0074, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 9, March 1780 – July 1780, ed. Gregg L. Lint and Richard Alan Ryerson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996, pp. 102–103.  URL: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-09-02-0074
[5] “B. de Cabarrus Jeune to John Adams: A Translation, 8 April 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-09-02-0089-0002, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 9, March 1780 – July 1780, ed. Gregg L. Lint and Richard Alan Ryerson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996, pp. 117–119.  URL: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-09-02-0089-0002
[6] “To John Adams from John Bondfield, 12 April 1780,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-09-02-0096, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Adams Papers, Papers of John Adams, vol. 9, March 1780 – July 1780, ed. Gregg L. Lint and Richard Alan Ryerson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996, pp. 127–129. URL: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/06-09-02-0096
[7] Date: Saturday, June 21, 1783         Paper: South-Carolina Weekly Gazette (Charleston, SC)   Volume: I   Issue: 19   Page: 4
[8] Date: Saturday, September 18, 1784             Paper: Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia, PA)   Volume: XIII   Issue: 1754   Page: 3
[9] Date: Thursday, September 1, 1785               Paper: New-York Packet (New York, NY)   Issue: 520   Page: 3
[10] Date: Monday, September 26, 1785             Paper: Charleston Evening Gazette (Charleston, SC)   Volume: I   Issue: 67   Page: 3
[11] Date: Friday, April 13, 1792            Paper: City Gazette (Charleston, SC)   Volume: X   Issue: 1861   Page: 2
[12] “To Thomas Jefferson from John Bondfield, 19 April 1785,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-08-02-0060, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8, 25 February–31 October 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, pp. 93–95.  URL: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-08-02-0060
[13] “Notes of a Tour into the Southern Parts of France, &c., 3 March–10 June 1787,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-11-02-0389, ver. 2014-02-12). 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.  URL: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-11-02-0389
[14] “Memorandum on Wine, [after 23 April 1788],” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-27-02-0701, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 27, 1 September–31 December 1793, ed. John Catanzariti. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997, pp. 761–763.  URL: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-27-02-0701
[15] “Memorandum to Henry Sheaff, [after 20 February 1793],” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-27-02-0799, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 27, 1 September–31 December 1793, ed. John Catanzariti. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997, pp. 842–845. URL: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-27-02-0799
[16] “From Thomas Jefferson to John Bondfield, 22 February 1788,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-12-02-0659, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 12, 7 August 1787 – 31 March 1788, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955, p. 616.  URL: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-12-02-0659
[17] “To Thomas Jefferson from John Bondfield, 19 April 1788,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-13-02-0019, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 13, March–7 October 1788, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956, p. 96. URL: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-13-02-0019

Chateau Margaux, the Racehorse and the Wine

December 3, 2013 Leave a comment

In conducting research in the Maryland Historical Magazine on the early history of Maryland winemaking I came across an article on “The Thoroughbred Horse and Maryland” which had been read in 1921.  I was surprised to learn that the thoroughbred horses Chateau Margaux and Claret were imported into America in 1834.[1] Every year Jenn and I host a tailgate party at the International Gold Cup in Virginia.  Despite our love for drinking wine at the races, it never occurred to me that a racehorse would be named after a famous Bordeaux chateau.  It turns out that Chateau Margaux was fouled by Whalebone with a first dam of Wasp in 1822.  Claret, in turn, was fouled by Chateau Margaux with a first dam of Partisan in 1830.  Though both horses had different breeders and owners, they were simultaneously imported by Merritt & Co.[2]

Chateau Margaux.  Image from

Chateau Margaux. Image from The American Stud Book. 1878.

Chateau Margaux was first entered as Brother to Addy having been bred by the Earl of Egremont.  Brother to Addy first ran at Newmarket in 1825, ridden by William Arnull.  The Claret Stakes was a flat race first held in 1808 at the Ditch-In course at Newmarket.  Brother to Addy ran the following year in which he won by two lengths over Enamel.  Apparently due to this win, Brother to Addy was subsequently renamed Chateau Margaux.    There are other raceshorses named after the famous wines of Bordeaux.  D’Estournel of 1864 fouled Father Claret in 1873.  At the end of the century the brown mare Haut Brion was fouled in 1897.[3]  Lastly, it must be admitted that Chateau Lafite, fouled in 1915, was a descendant of Zinfandel fouled in 1900.[4]

#742 Chateau Margaux - Vintage 1865.  Sale 9550 - The Magnificent Cellar of Lenoir M. Josey. 30 November - 1 December 2000. Image from Christies.

#742 Chateau Margaux – Vintage 1865. Sale 9550 – The Magnificent Cellar of Lenoir M. Josey. 30 November – 1 December 2000. Image from Christies.

Chateau Margaux was purchased in 1836 by the Spanish nobleman and banker Alexandre Aguada, Marques de las Marismas.  On August 28, 1865, a curious advertisement appears in The Times regarding the “Chateau Margaux Estate”.  In January, 1864, the English houses of J. Allnutt &Co., Boord, Son, & Beckwith, and Trowers & Lawson purchased the “whole wine produce of the Chateau Margaux estate for a term of years”.[5]  This transaction may have taken place due to a string of bad vintages since 1858.  Of the 1859 vintage Cocks and Feret wrote “Very irregular temperatures…if some have given satisfaction, many others have produced disappointment in development.”[6]  It was dismal in 1860 when it was “rainy and cold and is one of the worse that we have to register.”  There was a bubble in 1861 when there were “Favourable temperature to the vine, inducing hopes of wines of fine quality…very large purchases are effected at very high prices…hopes have been disappointed…ended in yielding a very ordinary quality.”  The vintage of 1862 was a bit better with “red wines of tolerably good colour, but lacking vivacity.”  The next year of 1863 had “unfavourable temperature…the red wines very indifferent.”

Thus after five lack-luster vintages, Alexandre Aguarda may have been motivated to sell his entire yield.  The timing advantageous for the British merchants for the 1864 vintage had “Great heat previous to vintage…The red wines possess mellowness, delicacy and elegance, but are slightly deficient in body.”  The following vintage of 1865 was generous to the British as well with “…one of the most favourable temperatures to the vines…the red wines present in the commencement a perfect maturity, much body and colour and the character of a great year…the highest prices which have even been accorded to red wines.”

Chateau Margaux. Cocks and Feret. Image from Bordeaux and Its Wines. 1883.

Despite these merchants having purchased the entire production, they must have sold the wine in cask and not bottled all of it.  For in the June 6, 1874, issue of The Spectator, Messrs. Christie, Manson and Woods auctioned off some of the 1865 vintage of Chateau Margaux at the Important Sale of Clarets.[7]  The sale included some 3,4000 dozen bottles of Lafite, Margaux, Leville, Cos D’Estournel, Ducru, Palmer, Rauzan, Giscours, Kirwan, Duhart Milon, and others of which “[t]he whole were bottled by Messrs. Tod-Heatly and Co in the Autumn of 1868, at their cellars in Adelphi, where they still remain.”  In 1879 the estate was sold by the son of Alexandre Aguada to Vicomte Pillet-Will.[8]  By April 24, 1897, the wines had returned to being bottled in Bordeaux.  The British wine merchants Edwards, Southard, and Sons advertised the 1894 vintage of which “we have bottled the whole of this Vintage…in fine condition, and possessing all the qualities of delicacy and bouquet which are the characteristics of Chateau Margaux.”[9]  Their bottlings consisted of 19,815 dozens of Grand Vin and 2,541 dozens of Second Vin.

Michael Broadbent’s vintage rating some nearly 110 years later mirror those of Cocks and Feret.[10]  He tasted two bottles each of both 1864 and 1864 Chateau Margaux.  These were bottled by Cruse and tasted at Binpin’s May 1987 and Rodenstock’s September 1987 tastings.  The Cruse family owned several chateaux in Bordeaux.  Herman Cruse is known for purchasing and modernizing Chateau Pontet-Canet beginning in 1865.  In the Catalogue General of the Universal Exposition of Paris in 1867, the “36. Exposition collective des vins de Bordeaux” lists H. Cruse of Pontet-Canet and Allnut, Boord et Beckwith, Trower et Lawson of Chateau Margaux. [11]  Why did Cruse bottle a portion of the first two vintages of Chateau Margaux which were owned by the British merchants?  Cruse built new cellars and modernized the winemaking facilities at Pontet-Canet.[12]  Perhaps the updated facilities seemed like an attractive place to bottle these new vintages of Chateau Margaux.  It appears that some of these wines eventually made their way to America.  On May 8, 1890, an auction in New York City included “A cellar of rare and choice Wines” including “1865 Leoville, Chateau Langoa, Chateau Beycheville, Chateau Margaux, and Chateau Lafitte, of Baron & Gustier.” [13]


[3] The General Stud Book, Volume 20. 1905. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=jkU5AQAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[5] The Times, Monday, Aug 28, 1865; pg. 10; Issue 25275; col E
[6] Cocks, Charles and Feret, Edouard.  Bordeaux and Its Wines.  1883. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=dSBEAAAAYAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[7] The Spectator, Volume 47. June 6, 1874. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=htMhAQAAMAAJ&pg=PP7#v=onepage&q&f=false
[8] Peppercorn, David. Bordeaux.  Faber and Faber Limited. 1991.
[9] The Times, Saturday, Apr 24, 1897; pg. 6; Issue 35186; col E
[10] Broadbent, Michael.  The Great Vintage Wine Book. Alfred A. Knopf.  1991.
[11] Catalogue général: exposition Universelle de 1867 à Paris. Des arts libéraux : matériel et applications ; (Groupe II, Classes 6 à 13). 1867. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=7NI-AAAAcAAJ&pg=PP5#v=onepage&q&f=false
[12] History of Chateau Pontet-Canet.  URL: http://www.pontet-canet.com/histoire-en.php
[13] Date: May 5, 1890   Paper: New York Herald (New York, NY)   Issue: 125   Page: 9