This hand blown glass decanter is an adaptation of a decanter uncovered during archeological excavations at Monticello in 1981. It was found in a food storage well dug at Jefferson’s direction in 1771. The dry well was intended as a cool, dry storage place but this location was filled in when Jefferson redesigned his dependency structures over the next few years. A number of discarded items from the earliest years of Jefferson’s Monticello were found in the backfill. The original decanter, dating from the 1760s, was ornamented with a wheel-engraved grapevine motif and cartouche, and had the letters “Madeira” engraved on one side.
Madeira was an important wine in the early history of the United States. In the thirteen colonies no grapes were grown that were capable of producing good quality wine, so colonists relied on imports. Madeira was a Portuguese fortified wine with a very robust flavor and was an early favorite of Thomas Jefferson; it was used to toast the Declaration of Independence.
During his residence in Europe, Jefferson developed a taste for the fine light wines of France and Italy, and thereafter found Madeira “entirely too powerful.” He continued, however, to serve it to guests at Monticello and the President’s House in Washington as an after-dinner wine.