An Evening with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson - A Summary

A summary by John Danza

Of all of this nation’s Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are the two most associated with wine and food. So it’s fitting that author James Gabler has used them both as the subjects of his book An Evening with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson – Dinner, Wine and Conversation. But wine plays a minor role in the book, as must be the case when dealing with two such historically significant figures as Franklin and Jefferson. Author Gabler has combined his knowledge of Franklin and Jefferson with his passion for wine and food. In fact, wine and food is a great backdrop for a story involving these two famous founding fathers who were such notable aficionados.

The story centers around a professor of American history who, through what we learn is a dream sequence, is hurled back in time to arrive in Paris to have dinner one evening. What transpires is a detailed and extremely well documented (consisting of over 850 foot notes) history of both men, told in a conversational format. As in any “docudrama”, the text of the narrative is invented by the writer while maintaining historical accuracy. However, Gabler is able to go much better than most authors due to both men being such prolific letter writers and documentarians themselves, so these sources are available for dialog construction.

Throughout the evening, the conversation between the professor, Franklin and Jefferson consists of the professor sharing information about the modern day world with Franklin and Jefferson relating how their historical experiences had similarities and how they handled the situation. The fact that Jefferson and Franklin are dining with a man from the future doesn’t phase them a bit, nor is the professor phased that he’s back in time as well.

The wine and food dialog is distributed throughout the book and is often used as a bridge or text that is used for transitioning from one historical topic to another. The wine notes consist of both a narrative of Franklin’s and Jefferson’s opinions of the 18th century wine being served throughout the meal from Jefferson’s cellar, and also comparisons of the 18th century wines  and their modern day counterparts. We also have discussions on wine and food pairings.

Of particular interest to wine enthusiasts will be the section where Gabler addresses the subject of the fake Jefferson wine bottles. By using the same thorough documentation used throughout the book, the author lets us hear Jefferson address the bottles and the reality around his wine purchases. The professor goes on to tell Jefferson and Franklin about the ongoing scandal of fake wines and lawsuits brought by Bill Koch.

There is also a merging of wine and history in a couple of areas in the book. Jefferson provides a detailed account of his travels in France. This includes details of his thoughts on Burgundy and its wines as he travelled through the region. Then there’s a lengthy account of Jefferson’s travels through areas of Southern France and the Provence region, which was a particular favorite of Jefferson.

Overall, Jim Gabler has succeeded in grasping the friendship between Franklin and Jefferson in a way that is unique in books about historical figures. His creation of a historically-accurate yet fictional evening brings to life the actions and accomplishments of two of our greatest founding fathers in a way that few books have been able to before it. The weaving in of wine and food throughout the evening bring that personal touch about the two great men that is usually lacking in any historical account of them. It's this approach that makes An Evening with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson - Dinner, Wine and Conversation an important addition to any wine aficionado's library.