From the precedent-setting Whiskey Rebellion to the early days of American wine production, the United States’ history is very much intertwined with alcohol.
So, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that many presidents were quite fond of enjoying a glass of wine (or several). Here’s a look at how wine played a big role in several presidencies.
1. George Washington
A recurring theme you’ll find on this list? The Founding Fathers certainly enjoyed a drink, and the first president of the United States is no exception.
Wines from Spain and Portugal would have been available to American Colonists at the time. George Washington was a fan of Portugal’s Madeira and drank it throughout his life. However, as a man of some means, he would have had access to Champagne, as well.
Washington attempted to produce his own wine several times. In one effort at his Mount Vernon Estate, he had enslaved workers plant about 2,000 cuttings of a local wild grape. However, the outbreak of the Revolutionary War made it impossible for Washington to complete the project.
Washington may not have found much success on the winemaking front. But he did have a distillery, which was one of the largest in the nation at the time. Beer was also an apparent interest—he carried around a notebook with a recipe for “small beer,” which produced a beer with less alcohol in comparison to other brews at the time.
2. John Adams
Adams also was said to finish his day with three glasses of Madeira. Further corroborating his love of this fortified wine, in 2017 New Jersey’s Liberty Hall Museum—which is housed in a historic home steeped in political history—uncovered “three cases of Madeira from 1796 and about 42 bottles from the 1820s,” reported Town and Country. Several of these cases had been ordered to celebrate the Adam’s inauguration.
3. Thomas Jefferson
For the president who said, “in nothing have the habits of the palate more decisive influence than in our relish of wines,” it’s not surprising Thomas Jefferson is often considered America’s first wine connoisseur.
According to NPR, prior to the Revolutionary War, Jefferson drank mostly Port, Sherries or the occasional red, which was common at the time. However, that all changed during a trip to France in 1784. After that, Jefferson became especially interested in Burgundies, Bordeauxes, Champagnes and Rhônes. He’d import French bottles, as well as selections from other major wine producing countries like Portugal, Italy and beyond.
At his Monticello plantation, Jefferson had two vineyards that were maintained by hundreds of enslaved people. He tried growing several European grapes. But he found no success as there was not yet a way to control diseases such as phylloxera.
While the plantation didn’t produce any wine during Jefferson’s lifetime, it’s safe to say there were still plenty of bottles to go around—he had more than 10 different wine cellars over the course of his life. Plenty other alcohol was produced at Monticello, though. For instance, George and Ursula Granger, two of the hundreds of enslaved people who lived on the plantation, were praised for their skills in cider production. Jefferson also touted Peter Hemmings, another enslaved person, for his brewing skills.
4. James Monroe
Jefferson’s love of wine influenced many of his contemporaries, including the fifth president, James Monroe. Jefferson even wrote a letter to Monroe after his inauguration, which mostly consisted of wine suggestions and how many bottles the new president should have at the ready. (Apparently the magic number was one bottle for every “3.5 persons.”)
It appears Monroe took Jefferson’s advice, but to unfortunate effect: Monroe’s administration was rocked with scandal when 1,200 bottles of imported wine were billed to Congress as furniture.
5. James Buchanan
In terms of alcohol, Buchanan enjoyed just about everything, but he had a special affinity for the high-end stuff. He particularly loved Champagne: When he was Secretary of State in 1846, Buchanan threw a party where several hundred bottles of wine were served, 150 of them being Champagne. Buchanan is even said to have reprimanded a wine merchant for sending bottles of Champagne that were too small.
But he wasn’t just fond of bubbles. Buchanan’s political manager, John Forney, is quoted in the book Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking as saying, “The Madeira and Sherry [Buchanan] has consumed would fill more than one old cellar, and the rye whiskey that he has ‘punished’ would make Jacob Baer’s heart (a well-known whiskey merchant at the time) glad.”
6. Ulysses S. Grant
Grant was a notorious drinker, and it’s evident this habit followed him to the White House. At the time, presidents were responsible for footing their “entertainment” bills. On several occasions, Grant’s dinners racked up a $2,000 bill on Champagne alone.
Needless to say, when Grant’s presidency came to an end, he was in massive debt.
7. Ronald Reagan
One might think that the president responsible for raising the drinking age from 18 to 21 might not be that into alcohol. But you’d be wrong.
Ronald Reagan “really considers himself to be a wine buff,” presidential assistant Michael K. Deaver told the Washington Post in a 1981 article. “He never was anyone who was interested in hard liquor.”
The 40th president of the United States had an extensive wine cellar at home, where he stashed lauded bottles such as a 1947 Lafite Rothschild and a 1947 Haut Brion. But he is perhaps most noted for bringing California wine to the White House: Reagan was known for serving bottles from the Golden State at state dinners. Kendall-Jackson saw their sales skyrocket after First Lady Nancy Reagan noted how much she loved it.
8. Barack Obama
Unlike his predecessor, the 44th president of the United States enjoyed a beer, cocktail and—naturally—a glass of wine or two. In fact, the Obama family home in Chicago has a wine cellar capable of holding 1,000 bottles.
We aren’t sure how full that cellar is. But the Obamas did pop some Graham Beck Brut NV sparkling to celebrate election night. And after serving Peza do Rei, from Spain’s Cachin Wineries, the wine became impossible to find selling out everywhere. It was dubbed “Obama’s wine.”
Last Updated: July 28, 2023