Photos courtesy of Edna Valley Vineyard.

President Ronald Reagan Introduced California Wines at the White House

As a California resident and a former governor, Ronald Reagan had strong ties to the local wine industry. California wines were receiving national and international attention after the famous Judgement of Paris in 1976 where two California wines were judged to be superior to their French counterparts. When elected President, Ronald Reagan pledged to present the finest cuisine to be paired with the finest American wines at the White House and at all state events. At the first ten State Dinners, the wines of twenty-two California wineries were served.

According to Gahl Hodges Burt who served as the Social Secretary from 1983 to 1985, President and Mrs. Reagan were proud to showcase California wines at every official White House lunch and dinner. “Celebrity entertainers like Yehudi Menuhin, Frank Sinatra, and Leontyne Price, as well as world leaders, would autograph and write comments on their menu cards and we would send them back to the wineries,” according to Gahl as quoted in the recently published Wine And The White House: A History by Frederick J. Ryan, Jr.

President Reagan began a new tradition at the White House by working with specialists, including David Berkley, founder of David Berkley Fine Wines & Specialty Foods in Sacramento, to provide advice on the wines to be paired with each course. President Reagan introduced California wines to global leaders and guests in Washington, D.C., sourcing wines from multiple AVAs and regions to pair with many of the luncheon and dinner menus throughout his presidency from 1981 to 1989.
“At the time, they were the best-informed administration on wine in this century,” says fellow Californian John A. DeLuca, past president of the Wine Institute.

Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, served San Luis Obispo County wines at his 1981 inauguration in Washington, D.C. They were produced by Edna Valley Vineyard, a joint venture of Paragon Vineyards in San Luis Obispo County and Chalone Vineyard in Monterey County. Jack Niven, founder of Paragon Vineyards, provided the grapes and built the winery. Phil Woodward and Dick Graff, co-founders of Chalone Vineyard made the wine, and managed production and sales.

There were several important events in 1983 at which Edna Valley Vineyard wines were celebrated. In a letter dated March 30, 1983, President Ronald Reagan thanked Philip Woodward for a donation of wines to the “festivities in honor of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.”

Edna Valley Vineyard wines were served at a luncheon honoring the President of the Republic of Ecuador, Osvaldo Hurtado, on April 8, 1983. The menu featured the 1981 Edna Valley Chardonnay, the first vintage of the winery. The wine was served with cold watercress soup, saltimbocca of veal with green noodles, and artichoke hearts filled with mushrooms. For dessert, guests enjoyed a ginger mousse with apricot sauce.

The 1981 Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay also graced the tables at a White House dinner in July 1983, in honor of the Amir Sulman al-Khalifa of the State of Bahrain, referenced in another letter from the Reagan administration.

Later in July 1983, on the 13th, the 1981 Edna Valley Pinot Noir Vin Gris was featured at a luncheon honoring the 1983 Teachers of the Year. The menu included cold Chesapeake crab bisque, escalopes of veal and raspberry charlotte.

The Pinot Noir Vin Gris was also featured on July 26, 1983, at a luncheon for President Reagan’s Key Supporters, where the wine was served with Maryland crab ring, sliced tenderloin of lamb with herb sauce, and a macedoine of fresh fruit ladyfingers.

President Reagan continued to feature Edna Valley Vineyard wines in 1984; one of the most important occasions was a luncheon on March 26, 1984, where the Presidential Medal of Freedom was presented. The 1981 Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay was paired with a salad of bay scallops & lobster, tenderloin of veal in Chablis served with soft shell pasta florentine. The meal concluded with fresh berries in pastry.

During President Reagan’s second term in 1988, the 1986 Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay was presented during a luncheon for members of the regional press. Watercress soup with herbed bow ties, supreme of chicken tarragon with wild rice, a mushroom tartlet with green beans amandine and grapefruit terrine cookies were paired with this Chardonnay.

President George H. W. Bush Featured Edna Valley Vineyard Wines at State Dinners

One of the most memorable State Dinners was held on October 22, 1991. President Bush and his wife, Barbara, honored the President of Czechoslovakia, Václav Havel and his first wife, Olga Havlová at the White House. Three California wines were featured: the 1990 Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay, the Caymus Vineyards 1986 “Special Select” Pinot Noir and the Ferrari-Carano’s “Eldorado Gold” 1989, a late harvest blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon from the Sonoma Coast. These wines were served with terrine of salmon and shellfish, roast loin of veal in apple and brandy sauce, with a potato nest, red pepper puree with snow peas and root vegetables. This course was followed by a salad of Belgian endive, red oak and Boston lettuce, with capri, chevre, and Hubbardston blue cheese. The dessert paired with the late harvest blend was a nougat glacé with raspberry and caramel sauce.

The Clinton Administration Served Edna Valley Vineyard Wines at White House Luncheons

With the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1994, Edna Valley Vineyard wines were presented at White House luncheons. On May 25, 1994, the Ladies of the Senate were honored at a luncheon at which the 1991 Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay was served with Gulf shrimp wrapped in grilled zucchini, pan-seared chicken with spring vegetables, followed by a dessert known as “Gardener’s Pride,” with fresh fruits, a strawberry lime sauce and hazelnut crescent cookies.

The last luncheon in which Edna Valley Vineyard wines were featured in the White House was held on June 28, 1994, in honor of President Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle of the Republic of Chile. Chilled Hood River prawns, roasted yellowtail snapper in tomato saffron and fennel broth, watercress and endive served with asiago crisps and a dessert of melon sorbet were paired with the 1991 Edna Valley Chardonnay.

The Wine History Project is looking for historical information on local wines that have been enjoyed by Presidents while in office at the White House or local wines shared with world leaders in other venues. Please share any information you have with us at info@winehistoryproject.org.