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Comparing wine aficionados Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill

Thomas Jefferson loved his wine — French wine in particular. Winston Churchill also loved his French wine, especially Champagne.

Comparing the drinking patterns of the two statesmen, one would think President Jefferson tended toward tea-tottering compared to the prodigious consumption of the Prime Minister.

Both men had something else in common: little regard for personal financial management.

Churchill consumed large amounts of alcohol to function, facilitated by a generous and patient wine merchant who would extend almost unlimited credit on his purchases — up to a point.

When the tab grew to $75,000 in today's money, the credit was truncated and he had to pay up, pushing him to the brink of bankruptcy a couple of times in his life.

For his wedding to Clementine, he stocked away 9-dozen bottles and 7 dozen half bottles of Pol Roger 1895 vintage champagne, plus 4-dozen half bottles of 1900 Pol Roger vintage. He didn't stop there; there were dozens of bottles of red wine, port, sparkling white wine, whiskey, 20 year-old brandy, vermouth and four bottles of gin.

His favorite imbed drink was the Pol Roger Champagne. I don't know what it cost in his time, but for the paltry sum of $259, you can order a bottle of Pol Roger of Sir Winston Churchill 2004 vintage in a gift box.

Assuming the ABV has remained fairly constant over the years, a 12.5% ABV would have leveled any other mortal trying to keep up with the Prime Minister.

What did Churchill do when his creditors began closing in on him?

He did what any over-indulgent citizen would do — tighten his belt. In a note to Clementine dated 1926, he ordered, "No more Champagne is to be bought. Unless special directions are given, only white or red wine, or whiskey and soda will be offered at dinner ... Cigars must be reduced to four a day."

Additionally, he would order that all the cattle, chickens, pigs and ponies at Chartwell be sold and that there be no fish course unless there were visitors.

Churchill had friends who helped him drink, and one of his 'friends' was Joseph Stalin, who catered to his love of Russian caviar. This gift occurred every year on Churchill's birthday, along with a case of his favorite Champagne from the shrewd Odette Pol Roger. The caviar abruptly stopped when he lambasted Russia for the 'Iron Curtain' that divided Europe after the war.

Churchill's belt tightening was largely symbolic in response to the creditors closing in on him. That's where some of his friends kicked in to help him retire his drinking and other overindulgent debts. At one point, the government settled his liquor bills, which today, would be unthinkable.

Both Jefferson attributed their longevity to their wine consumption. Jefferson died at age 83 while Churchill lived to be 90 years old.

Ron Smith, a retired NDSU Extension horticulturist, writes weekly about his love of wine and its history. Readers can reach him at tuftruck1@gmail.com.

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