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Wine and the White House: How Wine and Diplomacy Make Great Tablemates

This Friday, Oct. 1, at 7 p.m., Frederick J. Ryan Jr. discusses his new book, “Wine and the White House: A History,” with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden.

Many of us drink and serve wine without ever thinking it could convey a larger message.

When it’s served at the White House during official events, it’s a tool of diplomacy, and has been especially so since the days of the Reagan presidency, when the former governor of California declared that only American wines would be served at these official occasions.

According to Frederick J. Ryan Jr., in his new book, “Wine and the White House: A History,” “Reagan’s presidency coincided with a moment when wine was achieving a new level of popularity across America. His decision to serve only American wines at official events sent an important message.”

Ryan is publisher and CEO of The Washington Post and chairman of the board of directors of the White House Historical Association, publisher of his book. He also served in a senior role during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden will interview Ryan about his book during a National Book Festival Presents event on Friday, Oct. 1, at 7 p.m. The program will be virtual and premiere on the Library’s YouTube site (with captions). The presentation will be available for viewing afterward on YouTube and on the Library of Congress website at loc.gov/collections/event-videos/. Michelle Krowl, a historian from the Library’s Manuscript Division, will also participate, showing relevant items from the Library’s extraordinary collections of presidential materials, which include the papers of 23 U.S. presidents.

National Book Festival Presents is a continuing series that brings literary programs to the public on a year-round basis. Additional programs in the series will be announced as they are scheduled. To receive news of Library events, sign up for notifications here or subscribe to Library blogs and news feeds at loc.gov/subscribe/.

Wines have been served at the White House since the days of George Washington. Thomas Jefferson was a wine connoisseur, having learned much about it during his time in France. When the 18th Amendment passed in 1920, alcoholic beverages were prohibited. Yet, although the country was officially dry, “President Warren G. Harding’s White House was anything but,” writes Ryan.

Things, of course, have changed greatly over the following 100 years, and now wine is always an important part of White House dinners, so much so that Ryan calls White House wine service “a choreographed ballet.”

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