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Courtesy of Marchesi Mazzei
Leslie Bowman (from left), Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero, Francesco Mazzei and Filippo Mazzei introduced a new wine July 3 at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s education center.
GORDON KENDALL | Special to The Roanoke Times
A vine brought over from the Mazzei estate in Tuscany is planted.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
The study of how forged friendships have influenced the course of history can be fascinating. Consider the 40-year friendship of founding father Thomas Jefferson and Philip Mazzei.
Mazzei was born in the Italian region of Tuscany (home of Chianti) in 1730. After school he practiced medicine in Turkey before moving to London in 1755 to become a wine merchant. He was introduced to Benjamin Franklin and Virginia businessman and politician Thomas Adams who suggested he travel to Virginia and try his hand at winemaking and olive oil production. In 1773, Mazzei assembled a group of Italians and set sail for Virginia, intending to set up an experimental farm in Augusta County. In Charlottesville, he met Jefferson who persuaded him to locate his farm there, sweetening the deal by giving him 193 acres for agricultural planting. By 1778, Mazzei had bought 700 more acres and named his farm Colle, the Italian word for “hill.”
Mazzei and Jefferson became fast friends, and Mazzei enthusiastically joined the Revolutionary War effort. He became a secret agent and was sent abroad to gather military information for the Colonists. Mazzei is also credited with assisting Jefferson in composing the Declaration of Independence.
In his book “A Nation of Immigrants,” John F. Kennedy wrote: “The great doctrine ‘All men are created equal’ and incorporated into the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson, was paraphrased from the writing of Philip Mazzei, an Italian-born patriot and pamphleteer. … This phrase appears in Italian in Mazzei’s own hand, written in Italian, several years prior to the writing of the Declaration of Independence.”
Mazzei left Virginia in 1785 and travelled throughout Europe, promoting the idea of American democracy. He wrote a book, published in Paris in 1788, recounting the history of the Revolutionary War. The book gained a reputation for being a factual account and an antidote to British propaganda. Mazzei died in Pisa in 1816, but his family returned to the United States.
Mazzei believed that Virginia was ideally suited to grape and wine production, but his vineyard never came to fruition. A severe frost in the spring of 1774 damaged the vineyard, and it was ultimately trampled by horses belonging to British troops.
Today the Mazzei family and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation maintain a close relationship. On July 3, they introduced a new wine in a reception held at the foundation’s education center at Montalto, overlooking Monticello. “Philip” is a Tuscan cabernet sauvignon produced by the Mazzei family. Two of Philip Mazzei’s descendants, Filippo and Francesco, were on hand along with Italian ambassador Claudio Bisogniero. After being introduced by Thomas Jefferson Foundation President and CEO Leslie Greene Bowman, the Mazzeis provided a history lesson and described the wine.
The label features a portrait of Mazzei from a painting on display at the Louvre. The wine was described by Filippo as, “complex, vain, spicy and exotic, as was Philip.”
As I evaluated the wine, Francesco told me that the vines were planted in 1970. He said they were striving for a European-style wine, eschewing the jammy fruit of New World style wine in favor of “broad shoulders but not such a plump middle.”
In addition, the Mazzei archive, containing almost 2,500 of Mazzei’s writings, has been donated to the Jefferson library. A portion of the proceeds of the wine will go to the Jefferson Foundation as well.
A mountaintop vineyard has been planted adjacent to Montalto and will serve as a hands-on classroom for Piedmont Virginia Community College students studying viticulture and enology . The vineyard is being managed by Gabriele Rausse, Monticello’s director of gardens and grounds. Rousse is generally regarded as the father of modern Virginia wine, arriving in 1976 to establish Barboursville Vineyards. During the reception, Rousse and the Mazzeis planted three vines brought over from the famed Fonterutoli and Belguardo estates in Tuscany.
A severe thunderstorm broke out on the mountain as the event drew to a close. I was standing on the porch with Rousse waiting for the rain to subside and said to him, “I guess those vines you planted are liking this rain.”
“Yes,” he replied. “The vines are happy right now.”
Philip by Mazzei 2008
Philip is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon sourced from the Mazzeis’ Fonterutoli and Belguardo estates in Tuscany. These estates are justifiably renowned for their excellent Chianti. The wine displays a dense, opaque cordovan color and brooding aromas of cassis, briar and earth. Rich and dense on the palate, the wine delivers blackberry and cedar flavors on a firm foundation of rich fruit, finishing with muscular tannins. The wine possesses powerful, complex flavors. Serve with a grilled filet mignon and beurre blanc sauce. Availability is limited. $49
Gordon Kendall’s column on wine and spirits runs monthly in Extra.
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