The Mountain Times

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Wine and Religion intertwined through history

"He who drinks wine sleeps well. He who sleeps well cannot sin. He who does not sin goes to heaven." An Old Monk's Prayer says.

 Wine and religion are inexorably intertwined. Christians know the story of the marriage feast of Cana, where Jesus changed water into wine, and that Jesus used wine in the last supper - a choice that is remembered at every celebration of mass. What may be less known is that wine is mentioned 155 times in the Old Testament and 10 times in the New Testament.

 In the Exodus we can find the Hebrews regretting having to leave their vineyards in Egypt, but all was well - the Promised Land they found in the Plain of Sharon was green with vines and before long Palestine was covered in vineyards. Given this close relationship with the vine and its fruit, it's no surprise that by the time of Jesus, wine was an integral part of life.

 With the fall of the Roman Empire came Europe's Dark Ages, and the role of the monks and the monasteries became crucial in preserving the remnants of classical civilization as well as keeping viticulture alive. As Christianity spread across Europe so did the monasteries and with them the vineyards. As early as the 1100s the Cistercians were making wine at 'Clos de Vougeot' in Burgundy.

 The Christian Crusaders who fought against the Saracens brought back to Europe the Muscat grape, which today is widely grown for wine, raisins and table grapes. It ranges in color from white to almost black and has a pronounced sweet floral aroma. The number of varieties of Muscat suggests it is a very old if not the oldest domesticated grape variety.

 But the crusaders also learned a new trick from the Saracens: the art of distilling. The word 'alcohol' dates from this; in Arabic it is al-kuhl  (pronounced: 'al-cool')

 Perhaps the most notable contribution of the monks to the art of vinification is that of Dom Perignon, the cellar-master monk credited with the discovery of Champagne as we now know it.

But after close to a thousand years of dominating wine production, the monasteries began to lose out. The first assault was by Henry VIII of England who plundered the monasteries of their wealth and took control of their assets. After the French Revolution the vineyards were taken from the nobles and the Church to be redistributed among the people. Not long afterwards, Napoleon did the same in Germany and soon politicians and statesmen were taking over the vineyards. Talleyrand, the French priest turned revolutionary, took over Chateau Haut-Brion and Metternich, the Austrian politician and noted diplomat of the time, took over Schloss Johannisberg.

 Since then, wine has become secularized and though still used in church, today's winemakers need not be particularly religious.

Tagged: Wine Experiments, Wine