WHO WHERE THE WINE GEESE?
The “Wild Geese” was the term coined for the Irish migrants of the 17th and 18th centuries who fought in the armies of continental Europe. Some departed after the defeat of Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell at Kinsale in 1601, but the term also refers to those who left in the years following the Williamite wars and the violated Treaty of Limerick in 1691. Others left on religious grounds to escape the persecution of Roman Catholics under new laws imposed in the late 17th century, including restrictions on their economic activities. Several of these Irishmen attained great distinction fighting in the Irish Brigades in the service of France. Several would also attain fame through their involvement in the wine trade, such as Hennessy, MacCarthy, Phelan, Lynch, O’Byrne, Dillon, Kirwan and Walsh.
"Wine geese" is the name given to the emigrant Irish families, and their descendants, who, from the 17th century onwards, engaged in the wine trade in their adopted countries. Many of these pioneering Irish families played significant and enduring roles in the viticultural development of some of the principal winegrowing regions in both the Old and New World, such as Michel Lynch of Bordeaux.
The Irish did not become involved with the wine and brandy business by accident. For centuries there had been trading connections between Ireland and the wine producing areas of Europe. Irish emigrants were mainly involved in wine production in France, but they also settled in parts of Spain, Italy and Germany. In later centuries, further generations of ‘winegeese’ settled further afield in North America, Chile, South Africa, Australia and Madeira. In fact, the Irish helped launch the wine industry in America. The oldest commercial surviving winery in California prior to Prohibition, the San Jose winery, built by the Santa Barbara Mission in the early nineteenth century, was owned by Irishman James McCaffrey from 1853 to 1900.
So where does Thomas Jefferson fit in? Aside from being a lawyer, and President of the United States, Jefferson is recognized as being America’s first great wine connoisseur. During his first term as president he spent $7,500 on wine – this may not seem like a lot until you consider that the salary for the president at the time was about $25,000/year. His love affair with wine developed during his tenure as Ambassador to France when President Washington instructed him to visit Bordeaux with the express intention of sourcing the best quality Bordeaux wines for the Presidential wine cellars. Jefferson was struck by the number of Irish families involved in the wine trade in the world’s most famous wine producing region and thanks to Jefferson many of the wines in the presidential wine cellars were from those Bordeaux wineries with Irish connections.
“No nation is drunken where wine is cheap; and none sober, where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage.”