I’m not Catholic and to be honest, the only time I go to Church is for weddings and funerals, the last time being my nephew’s wedding in Italy. I know very little about the Church’s ceremonies or canons but I’ve observed the Eucharist (also referred to as the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion) and know there’s real wine in that Challis.
So as the world watched Pope Francis step onto the balcony in the Vatican, I wondered where the wine they serve comes from. Does the Church have its own vineyards, is the Eucharist wine any good and could there be a secret cellar in the Vatican that houses wine just for the Pope?
According to the Catholic Church Canons, Sacramental wine, also referred to as Communion or Alter wine must be natural, made from grapes of the vine, and not corrupt meaning it must be naturally fermented with no additives. I was actually told by a Church historian that it would be sacrilegious to use anything but real wine.
The Church actually has a long history with Old World vineyards and one of the best known is Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In 1308, Pope Clement V moved the papacy to the city of Avignon and it was said he was a great lover of wine. He avidly promoted the wines of the area which came to be known as “Vin du Pape” (now known as Châteauneuf-du-Pape) during the 70 years the Papacy was located there. But it was actually his successor John XXII who was responsible for the building of the famous castle that stands as a symbol for the appellation to this day.
Of course their wine now is not limited to supplying the Church and you can find a nice bottle of La Fiole du Pape a Chateauneuf-du-Pape red for $34.95. It’s a smooth full-bodied red from the Rhone in France.
I’m certain there are others vineyards in the Old World that supply wines to the Church but there’s also some well-known ones in the New World. In Australia Jesuits founded Sevenhill Cellars in 1851 in the Clare Valley. They now produce over 90,000 litres of wine annually, providing sacramental wine for both Australia and Asia along with a variety of award-winning white, red and fortified wines.
Located in the Finger Lakes wine region of New York State you’ll find O-Neh-Da the oldest still-producing vineyard founded by Bishop Bernard J. McQuaid in 1872. This is one of the last remaining wineries in the world dedicated to producing authentic sacramental wine from their original vineyard. They created a second vineyard called Eagle Crest that offers wine to the public.
There are even several wineries in Sonoma County that managed to survive Prohibition by producing sacramental wines. Among them was SIMI Winery founded in 1876 by two Italian brothers who immigrated to the US during the California gold rush. By continuing to produce wine they were one of the few wineries ready to sell wine again once Prohibition ended.
There are certainly others vineyards producing Sacramental wines around the world and generally the wines are known to be not too dry or sweet so as not to offend the palate. But how do they really taste? According to the Rev. E. Frank Henriques of Grass Valley, Calif., an Episcopal priest who is the author of The Signet Encyclopedia of Wine (New American Library, 1984) ”There’s very little sacramental wine that’s good”. Which totally leads me to believe there’s a secret wine cellar at the Vatican even though no one will confirm it.
Pope Francis has already charmed the masses and today as millions of faithful watched the Papal inauguration ceremony at St. Peter’s Square I’m sure his fan base will only grow. Considering that right out of the gate he mentioned words of wisdom I truly believe in “Like good wine we get better with age” I don’t think you even have to be Catholic to like this guy.