DRINKING GOLD: A nod to the Madeiran tradition of Savannah | Community | Savannah News, Events, Restaurants, Music


Many are unaware of the important role Madeira wine played in early American life. It has been used to celebrate occasions and has been roasted in the most respected homes of our new nation, especially here in Savannah.

The Davenport House Museum will host traditional Madeiran feasts on several dates throughout February, allowing guests to gain historical insight into the influence of wine on Savannah society.

Madeira’s history

In the beginning of our nation, wine-grade grapes were not grown in the original Thirteen Colonies, so importing was the only option. Madeira responded to the need. The mighty drinker was the main wine import of the time and was used in every way in politics, helping the economy and making a social statement.

The Founding Fathers regularly consumed the fortified wine and it was served at the signing of the Declaration of Independence as well as at George Washington’s inaugurations.

Jamie Credle, Director of Davenport House Museum, emphasized the importance of knowing our local history which has also had a huge impact on the development of our country.

“This event gives us the opportunity to talk about something specialized as opposed to what we normally do,” she said. “Madeira was a favorite celebratory tasting wine in the early 19th century, especially here in Savannah with its proximity to the port and maritime life.”

The wine is produced in Madeira, an island off the coast of Portugal that was part of the first Atlantic trade.

Credle said: “The round-trip Atlantic trade included goods, but also slaves. We understand and recognize this. The Ann, the ship that brought Oglethorpe and the first settlers here to Savannah, stopped in Madeira and stocked up on wine before coming to the colony. It has always been part of our culture here.

Credle explained what makes the wine so special.

“These tall ships had containers inside them called pipes. They would heat up with charcoal and also with direct sunlight. Because the Madeira was exposed to this heat, it made the wine even better.

Essentially, Credle said, the heat pasteurized the wine, making the taste quite unique.

“For the people of Savannah [and Charleston] who liked to drink Madeira, it was easy to store. You didn’t need an underground cellar to keep it cool. Many people of the day kept it in their warm attic to keep the temperature down.

Another plus, Credle said, was “There was no big tax on Madeira like there was on French or Spanish wine back then.”

Madeira in the savannah

Madeira was consumed regularly throughout Savannah’s founding days, according to Credle.

“Some of the most important houses in the city, such as the Davenport and Owen Thomas houses, have carried out inventories and discovered numerous references to the use and storage of Madeira in their record keeping.”

“When Mr Davenport died he had a demijohn in his inventory – it’s the traditional glass storage vessel in Madeira,” she recounted. “So we know that wine was an important part of these families’ lives to entertain and celebrate. Some people had 90 bottles of wine stored around their property at one time.

“Madeiran winemakers were marketing with what people on the east coast liked. A local man by the name of William Neyle Habersham is credited with naming Rainwater Madeira, who is one of those we have here,” Credle said. “They say he tasted Madeira and said it was ‘as good as rainwater’.”

Drinking gold event

Realtor Liza DiMarco is sponsoring the event at The Davenport House because of her strong belief in historic preservation.

“The fabric of the city’s history is so important to Savannah,” DiMarco said. “Preserving it helps preserve the city itself, its atmosphere, its culture. It shows respect for the ancestry that created the beautiful environment in which we live. Without preservation, Savannah wouldn’t be the wonderful city it is today because we would have lost it to senseless development.

The event will be presented on Fridays and Saturdays in February at 5:30 p.m. and will last 75 minutes. Guests will experience the historic atmosphere of Davenport House in a socially distanced format while experiencing and tasting unique and flavorful wine.

“Madeira parties traditionally followed the evening meal and were for men only,” Credle said. “Our take on the traditional party is to make it for everyone. It was an opportunity after the meal to sit down and chat for an hour about wine, the news of the day and politics. I would say that we still do similar activities today.

Credle said, as with modern-day stress, “It’s important to be able to separate yourself from your work and your worries and just talk about things that might interest you and others. It’s great to share these thoughts over a relaxing glass of wine.

Event attendees will receive an orientation to Madeira’s long and rich tradition of Savannah history.

“The event will give a very small taste of Madeira,” Credle said with a laugh. “After all, this is primarily an education program, but an adult education program. We will talk about the island of Madeira, our founding fathers, the primitive nation and we will share in particular how hospitality took place in these houses.

Credle’s hope is that the event will give people a sense of what life was like in Savannah in its early days.

“After the mock Madeira party, we’ll go up to one of the attic rooms,” she said. “We keep our groups small and start at dusk, like people would in those days. It’s fun to see the house by candlelight – we only do this three times a year, including our yellow fever program in October (a bit scary) and then our Christmas program. This event takes place in February before it gets too hot to go up to the attic.

The director anticipates a big event. “I’m ready to be with people again. We need to get back to doing things… not just watching people on TV do things. It is an opportunity in this international tourist destination for people to come [the Davenport House] for a reason and learn.

“Our city is beautiful and our history is interesting,” she continued. “It gives everyone a chance to step back and reflect on something people have done in the past and the time they have set aside for themselves. It’s a time to step out of the ordinary.

Credle is happy to provide a break away from home for visitors and locals.

“We’re talking about a drink that people don’t necessarily know about, so we’re trying to make it fun and educational and worth looking at. It’s refreshing to be with your friends and we’ll be safe with up to 10 people per performance.

She added: “We are all kind of messed up after being isolated for so long. It allows us to talk about something that is rather unspeakable, but we can share it with friends. »

The event requires reservations and Credle insists on not waiting until the last minute.

“The first two weeks are already booked, so please give us a call for a reservation if you’re interested,” Credle said.

“We are starting to review our lives and appreciate those times to be with other people. We want to cherish those times and create opportunities together.

For more information or to make reservations, contact The Davenport House at 912-236-8097 or by visiting davenporthousemuseum.org


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