3 minute read

Wine, with all its lovely flavor and character, is truly a gift. We celebrate with wine, romance with wine and what meal isn’t complemented by a glass of delicious wine? As Robert Louis Stevenson once said “Wine is bottled poetry.” There’s so much to love about wine you want to thank those who make this luscious potable possible. Well, thank the monks! Here’s why.


They May Not Have Invented It But They Perfected It

You probably don’t automatically think of religious orders when enjoying a glass of Burgundy or a very good Bordeaux but in reality most wines and viticulture in general were perfected by the monks. While wine’s roots go back to about 6,000 B.C.,members of religious orders sought to improve upon and preserve the techniques that go into winemaking.

The Art of French Wine Thanks to A Soldier-Turned-Saint

While it’s uncertain who first introduced winemaking to France, there's no doubt the French can give a nod to Saint Martin of Tours, a city located in France's Loire Valley. You see, sometime in the 4th century,  this Saint was weary of his life as a soldier so he turned to Christianity to atone for his misdeeds and trespasses. Saint Martin became a hermit monk in Italy before returning to his beloved France. He brought with him his well-honed knowledge of winemaking.

Still today Saint Martin is considered the spiritual father of wine in France. His viticulture practices have given us such widely recognized grapes as Chenin Blanc and Chenin Noir, which he cultivated from wild grapes. Martin also brought us Vouvray which he himself planted and preferred.

Saint Martin’s years spent as a hermit in Italy helped him perfect the art of growing and increase the output of deliciously cultivated grapes. He’s said to have been the inventor of the practice of pruning the vine and removing parts of the grape plant in order to increase harvest. The legend goes that Martin’s donkey munched a few of the local plants and voila! The wine that came from those plants was purportedly the finest flavored wine. Those priests and monks among whom Martin lived were caretakers of the vineyards for the next centuries.

Keepers of The Vine

In the 12th century French monasteries inhabited by nuns and monks served as the protectors of the art of wine making that harkened back to Saint Martin of Tours. The secrets of the precious Roman winemaking craft were highly guarded by these religious during a particularly tumultuous time in Europe. Not only was the information valuable but one could imagine the product itself was quite necessary in an unnerving era.

Another saintly contributor to the luscious wines of France was Saint Benedict. His edicts of collective agriculture as well as daily and contemplative prayer helped develop the French wine culture in so many wonderful ways.

Capturing The Stars

For centuries the Benedictine monks were regarded as expert winemakers, crafting and perfecting such celebrated French wines as Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. In fact, the much-celebrated creme de la creme of Champagnes, Dom Pérignon is named for the 17th century Benedictine monk who invented the unique cork which allows champagne to retain its bubbles. The story goes that upon sampling the product of the first trial of his custom cork Pérignon cried out “Brothers, come quickly! I’m drinking stars!”

Wine As Medicine

The monks made wine to be used as part of the celebration of the Catholic Mass but the product had its own medicinal uses as well. The pre-modern wine was of a lower alcohol volume therefore suitable as a tonic for relieving everything from gastro-intestinal ailments to fevers, anemia, nausea and the common cold. Wine was also used as an astringent and disinfectant for wounds.

Thank a Pope for This Luscious Wine

Though the legacy of Chateauneuf du Pape isn’t directly related to the monks, it is rooted in the Catholic Church in France. After becoming pope in 1305 Pope Clement V refused to leave his home country of France and moved the papacy to Avignon. The head of the Church remained in this Southern Rhone city for the next 67 years and this is where one of the most famous styles of wine began its legacy and got its name.

Though wine has been with us since, quite possibly, the dawn of time, it has certainly become the delicious quaff it is today thanks to the monks. Through their tender care and appreciation of viticulture wine has only improved. So the next time you celebrate a major life event or simply the remains of the day, raise your glass of Bordeaux, Burgundy or even “the stars” and thank the monks for wine.

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