Twentieth-Century Wine at Winterthur

Henry Francis du Pont

In preparation for what promises to be a fantastic exhibition on wine implements—Uncorked! by Senior Curator of Ceramics and Glass Leslie Grigsby—I have been researching the history of the wine cellar here at Winterthur.

The museum’s founder, Henry Francis du Pont (1880–1969), was interested in wine all his life. Below is a partial inventory of the wine cellar from the 1960s, which is exceptional by any standard. The burgundies are considered among the best produced in France of the century.

H. F. du Pont’s father, Colonel Henry Algernon du Pont (died in 1926), also had a large cellar. It was so extensive, in fact, that H. F. was still drinking bottles from his father’s collection in the 1960s.

Partial inventory of the Winterthur wine cellar, 1960s

This list seems to have been from a wine closet near the dining room, 1960s.

Prohibition inspired the du Ponts to create a cellar that might last the rest of their lives. We have inventories of the 1930 wine (and liquor) stash, which was stored in sites from Florida to Massachusetts and included bank vaults filled with trunks of alcohol in Long Island and a town house cellar in Washington DC. At Winterthur, a dozen or so closets, cellars, and storage areas packed with wine and spirits were spread all over the 2,000-acre estate.

After World War Two, du Pont rented storage space from his New York wine purveyors Midtown Wine, Colony Wine, and Sherry Lehman. He also bought bottles from the Wilmington Club. When he traveled to Europe during the 1950s, he bought directly from vineyards. We know from lists that still survive today that he and his friends traded advice on which vineyards to visit in places like Spain.

Winterthur owns all sorts of interesting 20th-century wine ephemera, such as the Prohibition-era Berry Bros. price list from London below, and I am working on all sorts of questions about it. I’ll post more as my research continues, so stay tuned!

Prohibition-era price list

Maggie Lidz is Winterthur’s estate historian and curator of garden objects. She is the author of The du Ponts: Houses and Gardens in the Brandywine as well as Life at Winterthur: A du Pont Family Album. Together with Public Programs Director Jeff Groff, she is currently working on a book about servants, “back-of the-house” spaces, and the outbuildings that made up large country places, due out from Acanthus Press in 2014.
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