“We could in the United States make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good,” Thomas Jefferson said of wine, which he considered “necessary to life.”
Perhaps this is what the author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States had in mind when from April 6-10, 1788, America’s first diplomat stationed in Paris visited Hochheim am Main. After tasting a Hochheim wine in Frankfurt, he decided he had to go straight to the source. There, he sampled the oldest vintage — a 1726 Riesling. He was so enamored with the varietal he bought 100 vines for his garden in Paris.
“The vines, which I took from Hochheim, thrive in my garden and will cross the Atlantic next winter in order to offer a glass of hock from our own production can,” he wrote to a friend.
The vines, unfortunately, did not make it to Virginia. But the friendship survived. To this day, Loudoun County, neighboring Jefferson’s famed Monticello, maintains a sister-county partnership with Main-Taunus-Kreis, where Hochheim resides. The counties have a student and civic exchange program.
Two hundred twenty-seven years later, modern-day diplomats gathered July 22 in those same vineyards to unveil a plaque in Jefferson’s honor, with the Frankfurt U.S. Consul General, Kevin Milas and U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Commander Col. Mary Martin present. The event was hosted by the Mayor of Hochheim, Dirk Westedt, and sponsored by the Rhein-Main chapter of the George Marshall Society and Hochheim’s Domdechant winery owner and president of the Hochheim Wine Association, Dr. Franz-Werner Michel. Edgar Nevel, first city councilor of Hochheim, spoke of Jefferson’s contributions to not only the United States, but to the world.
“The immortal words of the Declaration of Independence are the words of Thomas Jefferson,” he said. “He insisted upon a Bill of Rights, among the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, which have become symbols of American life ever since.” The words, and the plaque dedication, were particularly relevant for Michel, who survived the bombing of Berlin during World War II.
“There’s always been a connection between viticulture, history, politics and revolution,” he remarked. “I am now an 83-year-old with memories before and after World War II, and standing here now in peaceful surroundings — it is a real reason to be grateful. The American friendship is so essential for our freedom.” Michel had a special bottle label designed for the occasion to honor Jefferson. The plaque, however, is not the first dedicated to Jefferson, and one has existed in the vineyards since 2004, erected during the 1,250th anniversary of Hochheim.
The new plaque is located to the west of the church steeple in the vineyards. Follow Kirchstrasse straight down the hill and the plaque is located on the left. For more information on the history of viticulture in Hochheim in English, visit http://en.hochheim.de/.