For centuries, those who have chosen the cloistered life have banded together and supported the charitable side of their missions through winemaking.
As Madeline Scherb, author of A Taste of Heaven: A Guide to Food and Drink Made by Monks and Nuns describes it, as far back as the Middle Ages, each abbey had its own clos, or enclosed vineyard. “Monks would make wine for Mass and sell the surplus to pilgrims and guests, much as they do today,” she says. “It’s fun to visit an abbey tasting room and think that you are participating in a tradition that is almost one thousand years old.”
For some wine that’s truly divine, here’s a look at five monastery vineyards from around the world.
Austria: The winery at the Klosterneuburg Monastery is Austria’s oldest and largest, with almost 900 years of history. Just north of Vienna, this winery produces Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir and other traditional Austrian varietals from four different vineyards. The cellar dates back to the 14th century, and you can tour the church, cloisters and medieval museum that houses artwork and sculpture from the Middle Ages through today.
California: The Abbey of New Clairvaux is a community of Cistercian monks–better known as Trappists–living in the town of Vina (no joke!), about 20 miles north of Chico. Though the brothers maintain the grounds, a fifth-generation California winemaker Aimee Sunseri is in charge of the property’s Viognier, Zinfandel and Syrah and other bottlings.
France: In Provence, the monks at the Sainte Madeleine Abbey produce a Cotes du Ventoux style of wine using Syrah, Grenache, and Cinsault grapes from the abbey’s own vineyards.
Germany: The Abbey of Saint Hildegard is located in Rudesheim in the Rhine River Valley. The nuns grow Riesling and Spatburgunder, and two of the sisters are studying for their master vintner certification. Abovementioned author Scherb is partial to the abbey’s dry Riesling.
Italy: Celestino Lucin, winemaker at Abbazia di Novacella was voted Italy’s 2009 winemaker of the year. The monastery in Italy’s Alto Adige region was founded in 1142, and is Italy’s northernmost winery. Although the monks do not take an active part in the production of the wine, they maintain responsibility for the spiritual care of all farm culture and activity.