Montesquieu Winery Reflects On Independence Day and The Spirit of Wine: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
July 2, 2011, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi
Happy Birthday America! Independence Day is upon us, the Fourth of July- the day in 1776 that the wording of the Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress.
The eloquent second sentence of the Declaration shines and endures, one of the most celebrated and revered of American history:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Ahh, the pursuit of happiness. One of the many great things about our country is that we provide people the freedom to choose their path to happiness. No matter the challenges we face and the many issues that warrant change or improvement, the fact remains how very fortunate we are!
Independence Day brings many things to mind—barbecue, fireworks, parades, the National Anthem, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence. During this time we would like to take some time to think about the Founding Fathers and the forming of our great nation.
Here at Montesquieu Winery the tapestry of America’s history resonates with particularly interesting connections. The original Baron of Montesquieu – the philosopher and viticulturist Charles de Secondat –deeply influenced America’s governmental structure with his famous work “The Spirit of the Laws”. In particular, his articulation of the theory of separation of powers greatly affected the shaping of the US Constitution.
The Baron was born in 1689 at Château de la Brède in the département of Gironde, Bordeaux, during the period of Enlightenment. The gothic style feudal castle exists to this day, surrounded by water-filled moats, an English garden, and is appropriately situated near Bordelaise vineyards.
Credited by many with the discovery of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape in 1737, Charles de Secondant was also passionate about winemaking, and was especially devoted to the land and vines. As such he is considered one of the founding fathers of the concept of terroir.
When traveling in Bordeaux, you can hardly turn a corner without encountering a plaque, monument or such dedicated to the beloved Montesquieu. There is even a street-rue Esprit des Lois- named after his renowned book “The Spirit of Laws”, as well an esteemed local school the Lycee Montesquieu and the University of Bordeaux Law School in Pessac, Université Montesquieu – Bordeaux IV. During our trip this year for En Primeur we were fortunate to visit the area, including Château de la Brède. What a thrilling connection to the spirit of wine! We are honored to carry on the traditions of winemaking and devotion to terroir that the Baron himself was consumed by.
Another connection, appropriate to mention regarding the formation of our country and of interest to wine lovers, is Thomas Jefferson. As the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and a Founding Father, he was certainly influenced by the works and philosophy of Montesquieu, and also a deeply passionate wine lover and collector, considered by many as the founding father of American viniculture. During his time as Minister to France from 1785 to 1789 (succeeding Benjamin Franklin in the post), Jefferson became intimately familiar with France and Europe’s best wines and regions, making a grand tour of France and Italy during his appointment as Minister.
When he returned to Virgina, he had amassed quite a collection, and was intent to try and cultivate European grape varietals and produce wine at Monticello. Although he was never successful doing so, there is thankfully some poetic justice to our thriving wine industry in the United States, including bustling Virginia vineyards and wineries, and the restoration of Jefferson’s beloved Monticello. Jefferson said, “We could in the United States make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly the same kinds, but doubtless as good.”
It is safe to say that both Montesquieu and Jefferson would be intrigued with the global nature of the wine world today, and would include the enjoyment of wine in their “pursuit of happiness”. It is in this “Spirit of Wine” that we raise a glass to wish each and every one of you a very Happy Fourth of July!