Catholicism’s Enduring Influence on the Wine Sector

Most religions around the world forbid the consumption of alcoholic drinks at various levels. However, this is not the case with wine production and consumption. Historically, wine consumption in religious festivals goes back over 4000 years back.[1] Even before Abrahamic times, wine was consumed during religious services and gatherings. During Abrahamic times, wine consumption in religious ceremonies became a common practice and has since continued to modern times.

Wine and Religion

Wine is frequently mentioned in the holy scriptures. For instance, in the Old Testament, wine is mentioned over 100 times.[2] It is first mentioned in the book of Genesis when Noah planted the first vineyard after his ark landed on Mount Ararat. Later, wine is mentioned several times in the bible, including in New Testament, where Jesus miraculously turned water into wine in a wedding ceremony.

Catholicism and Wine Sector


Figure 1: Il Buco, Sorrento, a great restaurant in a former monks’ wine cella by Bex Walton – Flickr

Winemaking requires excellent skill, a suitable environment, and well-calibrated steps, and its outcome is mostly unpredictable. As a result, most religions attribute the unpredictable result of winemaking to divine intervention. In Christianity, wine rose in prominence after Jesus’ last supper, where he symbolically replaced sacrificial blood with wine. In the Old Testament, it is mentioned that pure lambs, white without blemish, were sacrificed, and their blood symbolically cleaned a person’s sins. However, after Jesus was crucified at Calvary, the practice changed, and his followers embraced wine, as in the last supper, symbolizing Jesus’s blood (sacrificial blood).

In contemporary times, wine has become a topic of contention among many religions due to its alcoholic content. However, the status of wine is different in Catholicism. Catholicism took a different approach to wine, giving it a sacred dimension. Since its inception, it has influenced the wine industry seeing its continuity even in the face of challenges such as Prohibition in the United States of America.

Catholicism’s influence on the wine Sector

Wine consumption in the catholic religion is associated with the significance of the holy Eucharist. The Church members replicate the Lord’s last supper by breaking bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Jesus’s death for the redemption of mankind, as illustrated in the books of Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, and Luke 22:7-23.

The bread and wine symbolized Jesus’s body and blood that could be shed shortly after the Last Supper.[3] As a result, the catholic church has mastered the winemaking skills for this purpose over the years. The practice stems from Jesus’s death meaning the early church pioneered it. Wine’s significance in the Eucharist caused major monasteries to become the top wine producers.

Monk Winemakers

When people hear of monasteries, they think of distant history with monks making wine for Christian festivals. Catholicism’s enduring history of winemaking resulted in many monks’ elevations to fine winemaking. In the Middle Ages, monks transformed winemaking into a trade with the rising number of Christians.[4] Wine became a part of religious practices among Christians, especially in France, and became part of their culture.

The rising Christianity accelerated winemaking, and soon wine became a means of getting money and power for the Dukes of Bourgogne. Catholic leaders, including monks and bishops, greatly influenced society, and their involvement in winemaking flourished the art. Wine, therefore, has been a part of catholic culture and a religious symbol in Europe.[5] Monks of the Cistercian and Cluniac orders possessed large pieces of land, which they planted vineyards for mass wine [tpfivyopm. Apart from making sacramental wine, they sold the rest, raking in great profits. By the 15th century, these monks had superior winemaking skills, and their wines were reputable across Europe. These orders greatly influenced and shaped winemaking in France.

Winemaking in Europe was primarily sustained by catholic monks who had refined skills in viticulture. They played the role of preserving winemaking principles in the Middle Ages and early modern era. Catholic religious orders’ involvement in viticulture, especially between the 16th and 17th centuries, influenced the industry shaping it into what it is today.[6]

Catholicism and Wine Sector

Figure 1: Grapes, Amador County CA by J – Flickr

Prohibition

In the United States, the production and sale of alcoholic drinks were prohibited from 1920 to 1933. Prohibition led to the decline in the production and sale of alcoholic drinks but increased bootlegging. In addition, it threatened the loss of winemaking skills since most wineries were closed by the government act. Catholicism, however, came to the rescue for most vineyards’ wineries that produced sacramental wine. One of these wineries was the Brotherhood winery (established in 1839) in New York which continued to operate, producing sacramental wine.

Many vineyards also continued to produce grapes for selling to wineries that made sacramental wine, grape juices, or fermented juices for home consumption. The production of sacramental wine cushioned the devastating effects of Prohibition in the United States. Catholicism’s influence in the Prohibition period saw an increase in clergymen as many people joined the church to drink sacramental wine. Religion thus sustained the winemaking in the United States until 1933, when Prohibition was repealed. Nevertheless, sacramental wine continues to be produced and is integral to the eucharist.

Catholicism and Wine Sector, Catholicism’s Enduring Influence on the Wine Sector

Figure 3: Brotherhood Winery by Brunomes – Flickr

Dom Perignon

Dom Perignon was a monk of the Benedictine order. His legacy stems from the promotion of sparkling wine. While sparkling wine was not a new concept, it was considered a fault winemaking process. Most winemakers at that time considered bubbles and fizziness in wine a defect of winemaking. Interestingly, his superiors first ordered monk Perignon to eliminate bubbles from wine in Hautvillers Abbey monastery.

While looking for techniques to eliminate the bubbles, he tasted it and realized that it was the magical property of the wine. After his discovery, he embraced sparkling wine, which resulted in the rise of sparkling wine in the 18th century.[7] Besides, Perignon is credited with developing methode champenois used in making champagne. Perignon introduced corks for air-locking the wine bottles. His contributions, including grape picking, soil preservation, and pressing techniques, influenced sparkling wine development in France and spread to other parts of the world. Today, the monk is considered the father of champagne due to his 1693 discovery. Perignon exemplifies the enduring influence of Catholicism in winemaking.

Missionaries and the New World

During his second voyage, Christopher Colombus brought the first grape vines to the New World i.e., the United States, and took settlers and crops for planting in the vast lands.[8] However, the spread of wine from Europe to the New World was propagated majorly by Spanish colonists, including Spanish missionaries. The Spanish introduced grape farming in Mexico in 1524. Later, missionaries arrived, and their main goal was to convert people to Catholicism while cultivating vineyards.[9]

As a result, they constructed schools and developed cities in regions for settlements. In the 17th century, viticulture and winemaking expanded to other regions of the United States, with Mexico as their operating base. The monks of the Franciscan order and Jesuits consolidated the missions and vineyards’ establishment in the conquered colonies. Jesuit missionaries also introduced viticulture in other New World countries, including Columbia (1530s), Peru (1540s), Chile (1548), Argentina (1556), and Bolivia (1560s).[10] These missionaries brought different types of grapes from Europe, introducing them to the New World.

Catholicism and Wine Sector, Catholicism’s Enduring Influence on the Wine Sector

Figure 4: Map of the second voyage of Christopher Columbus by Keithpickering

In the United States, missionaries from Mexico led by Father Junipero Serra arrived in California on 28 April 1769, founding the first mission on 16 July 1769.[11] Father Serra introduced the first European grapes in California. Spanish colonizers also moved north to counter British expansion south of Canada as well as converting people in these regions into Catholicism. When they arrived in California, they established several missions which spearheaded vineyard cultivation and religious conversion.

These missionaries set California on an upward trajectory that saw it claim the spot of the top wine-producing state in the United States. The highlighted cases indicate the involvement of the catholic religion in shaping the world’s industry. Sacramental wine is the main reason Catholicism has been involved in winemaking practices over the years; this practice continues today, and there are no signs of its subsiding soon.

This Day in Wine History

24 September 1493 – On this day, Christopher Columbus set for his second voyage to the New World. Unlike the first, he was accompanied by Spanish settlers who came with livestock and different plants they had introduced for the first time in the Americas. These settlers introduced superior winemaking practices in the New World, increasing wine output. Early on, wine was exported from Europe, but this declined with increasing wine production in the New World. Wine was a major drink in Columbus’s voyages. His crew preferred wine to water, explaining why it always ended before they could reach their destinations and thus resorted to water.[12] Columbus’s voyages led to the opening of the Americas, the spreading of new knowledge, and the introduction of the modern era. Besides, it laid the path for the catholic missionaries who explored and conquered the Americas, spreading their gospel along with wine.

20 March 1524 – On this day, Hernan Cortes decreed every person in New Spain to plant 1000 feet of vineyards for every hundred enslaved people.[13] The decree led to a massive increase of vineyards in Mexico City and surrounding areas. The Spanish colonists came with Vitis Vinifera varietal, superior to native grapes. The Spanish settlers led to a significant increase in wine production in Mexico City. Priests, bishops, monks, and catholic members that came later also improved wine production in the region with their superior winemaking practices purposely for sacramental wine. As a result, winemaking spread in the New World.

28 April 1769 – Father Junipero Serra arrived in present-day California on this day. Born on 24 November 1713, Serra joined the Franciscan order in 1730 and was ordained in 1738. Father Serra traveled to Mexico City in 1750 as a missionary and later to California, arriving on 28 April 1769. Father Serra established a series of missions responsible for converting natives and cultivating grapes for sacramental wine.[14] His work significantly impacted Father Serra is recognized as a Father of Californian wine. Father Serra planted the first vineyards on 16 May 1778.

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References

[1] Robert Fuller, “‘Let Us Adore and Drink!’ a Brief History of Wine and Religion,” The Conversation, December 23, 2014, https://theconversation.com/let-us-adore-and-drink-a-brief-history-of-wine-and-religion-35308.

[2] words: Hannie Everett, “The Evolution of Alcohol across the Three Monotheistic Religions,” VinePair, August 14, 2015, https://vinepair.com/wine-blog/the-evolution-of-alcohol-across-the-three-monotheistic-religions/.

[3] Anderson Jeremiah, “Easter: What the Catholic Church Teaches about Bread and Wine and Christ’s Flesh and Blood,” The Conversation, April 17, 2019, https://theconversation.com/easter-what-the-catholic-church-teaches-about-bread-and-wine-and-christs-flesh-and-blood-115521.

[4] Bourgogne Wines, “From 5th to 15th C. : Wines Made by Monks and Trumpeted by the Dukes of Bourgogne across Europe,” www.bourgogne-wines.com, n.d., https://www.bourgogne-wines.com/our-expertise/a-story-of-time/the-contribution-of-the-monks-and-dukes-of-bourgogne/from-5th-to-15th-c.-wines-made-by-monks-and-trumpeted-by-the-dukes-of-bourgogne-across-europe.

[5] Jean-François Outreville, “Wine Consumption and Religions: A Research Note,” Beverages 7, no. 4 (October 21, 2021): 70, https://doi.org/10.3390/beverages7040070.

[6] Claudio Deidda, “The Vine & the Monk – Monks and Missionaries’ Influence in Winemaking,” The Beauty & The Taste, October 25, 2020, https://www.thebeautyandthetaste.co.uk/blog/the-vine-the-monk/.

[7] Solène Tadié, “The Sparkling Story of Dom Pérignon, Benedictine Monk,” NCR, September 25, 2020, https://www.ncregister.com/news/the-sparkling-story-of-dom-perignon-benedictine-monk.

[8] Christopher Minster, “What Happened during Columbus’ Second Voyage?” ThoughtCo, 2018, https://www.thoughtco.com/the-second-voyage-of-christopher-columbus-2136700.

[9] Amanda Barnes, “Wine in Mexico: History, Wine Region, Wines & Everything You Need to Know,” Around the World in 80 Harvests, November 4, 2016, https://aroundtheworldin80harvests.com/2016/11/04/wine-in-mexico-history-wine-region-wines/.

[10] Encyclopedia.com, “Wine Industry | Encyclopedia.com,” www.encyclopedia.com, accessed August 2, 2022, https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wine-industry.

[11] The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Saint Junipero Serra | Biography & Facts,” in Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Junipero-Serra.

[13] Lizette Rolland, “The Story of How Wine Is What It Is Today in Mexico,” bcwt, August 5, 2019, https://www.bajacaliforniawinetours.com/post/the-story-of-how-wine-is-what-it-is-today-in-mexico.

[14] The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Saint Junipero Serra | Biography & Facts,” in Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Junipero-Serra.

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