Because his legacy centers on antiques, it is easy to forget that H. F. du Pont (1880‒1969) was a man of his time—fond of martinis, cigarettes, and bridge. He also liked champagne. According to his butler, he preferred champagne to red wine with his meat course, presumably a holdover from his Edwardian youth. At Winterthur and many other wealthy American households at the turn of the 20th century, champagne (sweeter than normally drunk today) was served as the central dinner wine (with sherry for the first soup course, Rhine wines with fish, and clarets with game). After Prohibition officially ended on January 1, 1934—and with a wine cellar still heavily stocked with vintage wines of all varieties—du Pont developed a particular preference for Krug, the most rarified and costly of champagnes.
“I should like to know if you have heard abroad this summer what is the best of the newer champagnes? I should be very grateful if you could give me any ‘dope’ on the subject and from whom would you advise me to buy?” In September 1933, H. F. du Pont put this question to a well-connected family relation, F. Lammot Belin, who owned a chateau in France and had recently completed a stint as Roosevelt’s ambassador to Poland. Timing is everything. The repeal of the 18th amendment was imminent, and du Pont wanted to “lay in quite a supply” before the new taxes took effect on the first of January.
The Gilded Age’s preference for banquets and sweet wines had given way to the vogue for informal dining and “dry” beverages of all sorts, from ginger ale to cocktails to champagne. Du Pont’s interest in the new champagnes was part of a generational shift. Belin, a polished man of the world whose urbane judgment was esteemed by du Pont, was not the least bit hesitant: “To my taste, Krug is one of the best brands and while in Paris I purchased some 1921 & Brut Reserve, the former at 50 francs, the latter at 40.”As advised by Belin, du Pont contacted Krug’s Parisian agent, Brossault, immediately, and six cases of Krug’s Brut 1921 were shipped out to him. He must have agreed with Belin’s assessment, as these were the first of many cases of Krug Brut champagne to take up space in du Pont’s wine cellar in the next few decades.
In January 1937, du Pont obtained 25 cases of Krug Extra Sec 1920 from a newly established Manhattan branch of the venerable wine dealer Nicholas. This may have been purchased in anticipation of his older daughter’s wedding, which occurred the following January.
By the time of her wedding, he also had 21 cases of champagnes from other houses on hand. He had had the misfortune of running out of champagne for her 1935 debut, an unfortunate memory he brought up with his wine dealer, Peter, the Earl of Gosford, proprietor of Midtown Wine in New York.
One or two small orders for Krug were placed between 1937 and 1947, at which time he required champagne for his younger daughter’s wedding. For this occasion, which would be one of the last big parties at Winterthur before it became a public museum in 1951, there would be no repeat of running short. The Earl received his order of 30 cases of Krug Special Reserve backed up by 20 cases of Krug 1929 in magnum sizes and 10 cases of Krug 1937, also in magnums.
Five days before the wedding, he ordered another four cases of Krug 1937 in magnum size and four cases of Krug Reserve in regular fifth-size bottles.
The success of the wedding seems to have created a particular taste for Krug 1937. A month after the wedding, du Pont ordered 3 more cases of Krug 1937. In September, 15 more cases of Krug 1937 were purchased through Delaware Beverage Company, a business established by, among others, du Pont’s oenophile cousin, Lammot Copeland, whose main occupation was running the DuPont Company (and whose estate, Mt. Cuba, quite close to Winterthur, is now open to the public). The 1937 Krug must have been getting scarce, as du Pont bought two more cases in 1948 and then in 1951 wrote (or rather, dictated to his secretary) a note to Lehman’s: “Will you please let me know what champagne you have nearest to Krug 1937?” Perhaps they couldn’t help. Du Pont’s interest in Krug seems to have tapered off as the 1937 vintage diminished. His cellar in the 1960s included only one magnum of 1945 Krug. Although H. F. du Pont may not have been an oenophile in the same league as his cousin Lammot Copeland, it’s evident he took great pleasure in drinking fine wines and serving the best to his guests.
By Maggie Lidz, Winterthur estate historian