THE SPIRITUALITY OF WINE

By Rose Murray Brown MW    Published in The Scotsman 17 September 2016

“Crafting wine is a remarkable spiritual experience”.  This is according to Gisela H. Kreglinger, the author of a fascinating new book ‘The Spirituality of Wine’ (Eerdmans) on the subject of how wine and the church are so closely linked.

I have to admit that I took a deep breath when I saw Kreglinger’s book title, as I genuinely thought it would not be for me – but how wrong I was.  I found parts of this wide-ranging book really interesting and inspiring, particularly her personal tale of growing up on a wine estate and interviews with modern-day priests and nuns who make wine.  I would urge anyone with even a passing interest in wine or religion to read it.

Gisela KreglingerI first met Dr Kreglinger (pictured right), a research associate with a PhD in historical theology based at St Andrews University’s Institute of Theology, Imagination and the Arts, when she attended one of my wine tastings.  She told me she was researching a book on wine in Christian spirituality – and I genuinely wondered whether everyday wine lovers who drink wine for enjoyment would be interested in such an intense subject. 

What Kreglinger has done is deliver an unusual discourse – without slipping too much into Christian jargon – making it a readable tome, on a subject that has had surprisingly little research.

In the preface she describes vividly her life at her family winery in Bavaria.  “I spent the first three years of my life in a playpen in the vineyard or on rainy days with my grandfather in the winery office”, says Kreglinger.  “I also remember crawling into small opening of wine vats to scrub them clean from the inside – my least favourite task”, she says.  

She describes her vivid memories of “the smell of fermenting juice”, crowded tasting rooms where she saw for the first time how wine can make people joyful and the bonding ritual of family feasting –Christian feasting is a theme she expands in her book with a beautiful description of Babette’s Feast to illustrate her point.

Her epiphany came aged 14 at her confirmation when she sipped the chalice.  Whilst her first degree was in economics and banking, she admits to being ‘terribly bored’ by international finance – yet when she told her winemaking father she wanted to study theology, he dismissed it as a ‘breadless art”.  Her ‘more practical’ sister Gertrude took over the family winery.

Now years later she has brought the two strands of her life – wine & religion – together.  (Pictured right is the chalice commissioned by her family in the C15 for a Franciscan church in Rothenburg). 

Her first chapters discuss how wine features from Genesis to the Book of Revelation in the Bible and, more interestingly, the role of wine in the Church so important in mediaeval Europe when wine was not just a drink, but a sacrament.  “The Cistercians in particular understood the crafting of wine as a profound spiritual affair…they got to know their land well”, she says.  And nearer to modern times, she touches on wine’s expansion in America and 14 years of Prohibition. 

Kreglinger then attempts to bring the lessons of spirituality and the world of wine together.  Her best interviews are with vintners as practicing theologians: Catholic priest Father Ralf Hufsky, Benedictine nun Sister Thekla winemaker at Abbey of St Hildegard, Bernd Kutschick Cellarmaster at C12 Cistercian monastery Kloster Eberbach to retired Augustinian nun-vintner Sister Hedwig at Vogelsburg winery near Volkach.

I felt she struggled with finding interesting interviews with New World winemakers.  She meets, amongst others, Tim Mondavi in California, who attended a Jesuit school and whose family made wine for the Eucharist – and Jason Lett in Oregon who “played music with a spiritual dimension” to his wines.

Not afraid of big subjects, she discusses wine’s health benefits and alcohol abuse.  She points out that Noah was the first to plant a vineyard and first to get drunk (Genesis 9:20-26) and both John Calvin and Luther enjoyed wine.  Scottish minister John Knox even had wine as part of his salary.

One of the main themes is how vintners can adapt to modern technology whilst keeping ‘soul’.  “Recovering our relationship with the land and not viewing it in terms of economic value is a deeply spiritual affair”. 

She points to standardized mass market wines found in today’s supermarkets as the main culprits.  “My father always taught me to think global, but buy local – diversity is a gift not a threat”.

“All is not well in the world of wine”, she concludes.  “Vintners of the younger generation in Franconia find it difficult to connect their lives and vineyard work with the Christian faith of their ancestors.  Faith, culture and wine used to be deeply intertwined, but culture and wine is losing the spiritual and cultural richness”. 

Kreglinger’s hope is that vintners, and wine-lovers, reading her book will be inspired by the teachings of Scripture and Christian tradition, which she believes can still be meaningful for those involved in crafting wine for our enjoyment.

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Saumur Champigny Loire red Berry Bros & RuddWINE OF THE WEEK


Loire Red: CLOS DES CORDELIERS, SAUMUR CHAMPIGNY 2014
(£12 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com)
Franciscan monks first made wine at Clos des Cordeliers in C17, but like many religious organization the property was confiscated in the French revolution – and is now privately owned.  Fresh light summer red with crunchy red fruit, peppery, unoaked, made from Cabernet Franc.  Served chilled with charcuterie: 12.5%


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