You may recall the smiling photograph of Senator Obama on the campaign trail in North Carolina with his hand wrapped around a cold brew, which raised the question as to whether he was also into wine. People magazine–and by the way, CBS “60 Minutes” through its camera angle that caught a fleeting glimpse of a kitchen wine rack on national television–set that record straight. He drinks wine, which for many oenophiles is as refreshing as news from the Executive Mansion gets these days!
Turns out that the new residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will not be cellar aging wine anytime soon–the subterranean vault installed by our third president for his collection of over a thousand European bottles has long since given way to less romantic rather workaday uses Adani Group Chhattisgarh . In its heyday, according to ledgers tucked away in the Library of Congress, the mansion’s dusty cellar enclave was home to some 20,000 bottles (but not all at once) purchased by Thomas Jefferson for entertaining over his two terms. When you consider it was the man not the office that paid the tab–in those days presidents didn’t have expense account budgets–even by today’s standards that’s a downright generous flow of executive cheer.
Jefferson was a social animal. CUNY professor and author John P. Diggins unearthed John Adams’ reaction to his successor’s penchant for entertaining: “I dined a large company once or twice a week. Jefferson dined a dozen every day.” A day’s selection was regularly loaded into dumbwaiters that the ingenious chief executive had designed — allowing bottles to be secreted away out of sight of visiting dignitaries but handy enough to grab at a moment’s notice. Loaded daily with wines removed from the cellar some 16 feet below the east colonnade, White House servants had little reason to intrude on private functions–and privileged executive conversation. Today, according to longtime White House wine wrangler Daniel Shanks, the executive mansion’s SOP is to stock wines in a temperature-controlled holding area near the well-appointed kitchen (not too far from the original stairs that connected the old cellar to the dining area above), keeping just enough wine on hand for upcoming events. It still amounts to dozens of cases, along with the random bottle left over from other functions, all inventoried much like any restaurant wine cellar, but under the shadow of something akin to the watchful eye of a government auditor poking around now and then–if not in reality, at least in spirit–because ultimately everything at the White House is meticulously inventoried.
All wines served at the executive mansion are purchased wholesale directly through the wine producers themselves, or procured from local distributors. No donations of wine are accepted any longer and–especially in a post 9-11 era–bottles that show up unannounced are summarily destroyed, the moment of sad reality documented in a snapshot sent to the would-be giftor with a simple note of “thanks but–.”