''A more benevolent people, I have never known…..nor greater warmth & devotedness in their select friendships. Their kindness and accommodation to strangers is unparalleled, and the hospitality of Paris is beyond anything I had conceived to be practicable in a large city.’'
Thomas Jefferson lived in Paris from 1784 to 1789, experiencing first hand the simmering pot of discontent which culminated in the French Revolution. However this did not in the least dampen his enthusiasm for his new found French friends: ''Here we have singing, dancing, laughter, and merriment,'' he wrote in 1786. ''When our king goes out, they fall down and kiss the earth where he has trodden; and then they go on kissing one another. They have as much happiness in one year as an Englishman in ten.’’
The unconstrained approach to marital fidelity that was the norm in late 18c Parisian society, clearly made a favourable impression on this deep thinking American, with a taste for the finer things in life!
In 1787 Jefferson set off on a cultural tour of France. He travelled to Burgundy, and stayed in Dijon, and then meandered his way through the wine villages of the Côte as wine tourists who followed him have been doing ever since. One of his favoured Burgundy wines was Chambertin, and when he became the third President of the United States in 1801, he ordered 10 cases for the White House cellars. While in Gevrey Chambertin (then known as Gevrey en Montagne) he took the time to prepare a sketch of the wall that encloses the southern side of the Premier Cru vineyard Clos St Jacques. The wall must have looked as impressive then as it does today.
So 230 years later, what has changed? Paris is still arguably the world’s most famous destination for lovers and free thinking liberals. Burgundy is still producing the world’s most famous and expensive wines for Presidents and others with the good fortune to afford them; and the wall in Gevrey Chambertin enclosing Clos St Jacques is still admired by our guests from around the world - the more so when they hear of its illustrious former visitor! As they say in France: ‘Plus ça change - plus c’est le même chose’.
The Burgundy Shop www.theburgundyshop.com offers historical and cultural wine tours and tastings of the wines of Gevrey Chambertin from 1 March to 30 November.