by Fred McMillin
for November 25, 1999


The Pilgrims' Plight:
Little Food, Little Wine


The Valiant Voyagers

1620—One hundred pilgrims plus two born at sea arrive off Cape Cod in November after a 66-day voyage in the poorly-provisioned Mayflower (no wine).

1621—Another 35 colonists arrive at Plymouth. Homemade wine is served at the first Thanksgiving celebration. Ominously, their crops of wheat, barley and peas have all failed.

1622—Another 62 colonists arrive, but all are forced to go on short rations because of the poor harvest. Their survival diet includes a strange, new squash called "pompions" (pumpkin). Before long, there will be a call for Frenchmen to come to New England to bring vines and make good wine, but there are no takers.

Shipping wine from Bordeaux

Shipping wine from Bordeaux

The Wine They Left Behind

Ironically, the land they were leaving had plenty of French wine. Expressed in modern terms of equivalent cases, Bordeaux wine imports to London increased from 400,000 cases in 1603 to 700,000 cases in 1604. About the time of the first Thanksgiving, a French wine merchant, Rene Girault, was arranging to land 12,000 cases in England. Also, English King James I actually had his Sergeant of the Cellar, James Bovy, go to Bordeaux each summer to follow the vintage and purchase the best values. James was a frugal Scot, and was slow paying. In fact, Bordeaux wine merchant Abel Denys went to London to collect from the King in 1625; records show he still had not received his money seven years later!

In any case, our Wine of the Day is from Bordeaux, and it is paid for...

1996 Chateau Greysac
Appellation—Medoc, Bordeaux
Rating—Seagram carefully selects the wines they import, so you know Greysac will be a good value. In the $16 price range, my panel gave it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Composition—Classic: Merlot, 50%; Cabernet Sauvignon, 40%; Petit Verdot, 10%.
Winery Classification—Cru Bourgeois (1932)
Robert Parker, Jr. Comment—"Elegant, smooth, complex bouquet, never overly aggressive, very popular in the U.S.A."
Food Affinity—A medium-power claret, not too strong for a smoked turkey, or a pepperoni pizza.
Contact—Angela Freire, (707) 255-7667, FAX (707) 255-1119.
Price—$16 range

Credits: Bordeaux, 1961-1997, Robert Parker, Jr.;
Wine Trade In England, Vol. III, Andre Simon;
Food Chronology, James Trager.


A German at King James' court wrote a tribute to English wine imports that included the lines, "Though England has no vineyards fair, The jolly toper drinketh there...Wine maketh the island glad, Can better wine than this be had?"

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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Fred McMillin


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