I'm from Harford County, Maryland," I begin, getting the response I've come to expect when I mention my county's name--a blank stare. "It's north of Baltimore."
Glimmer of recognition and slight nod.
"We have a story handed down to us about Swan Harbor Farm. Over 400 acres. Sits right on the Chesapeake Bay. Over 200 years old. The owner, John Adlum, was Maryland's first winemaker. He was good friends with Thomas Jefferson."
Jefferson--yes. Now that name rings a bell.
So I tell her the local legend. That Jefferson was impressed with the wine John Adlum made from the grapes that he grew in the rich Chesapeake Bay farmland. That John Adlum holds the distinction of being Maryland's first winemaker. That Jefferson asked Adlum for over a hundred cuttings from his grapevines--probably Catawba grapes.
I tell her we hope that Monticello would give Swan Harbor's vineyard restoration project some cuttings just as John Adlum gave Thomas Jefferson a new strain of grape. Such a gift would bring the fruits of this famous friendship full circle over 200 years later.
Her next words give me that "I've-come-this-far-for-this?" feeling.
"Mr. Jefferson loved wine but was never able to cultivate a vineyard here at Monticello."
Did she really say, "Mr. Jefferson"? So matter-of-fact with such authority--as if the boss were still alive and just off in one of the offices here.
So, there is my answer: no vineyard, no grapes, no Swan Harbor grapes. Another 200-year-old legend bites the dust after a little scholarship.
Feeling deflated, I take my wife and two children to Ash Lawn, James Monroe's home, just down the road, literally. No accident that two great patriots should live so close: Jefferson asked his best friends to move nearby, so that he could enjoy good conversation--and wine--on a regular basis.
Next page: A Sneeze Clears up the Mystery
John Adlum's home today at Swan Harbor Farm after many additions (for a tour of the home inside and some of the original rooms, click here)
Thomas Jefferson's home Monticello as it looks today viewed from the garden. Rear view.