How did the Catholic Church Save the Californian Wine Industry?

Did you know that once upon a time, the largest institution in Christendom rode in on a big white horse and saved the biggest wine industry in America from death and destruction? True story. Sit back and let the Ideal Wine Company tell you how the Catholic Church saved the Californian wine industry.

The Catholic Church are the champions of wine

Anyone who grew up in the Western world knows the importance of wine in Christianity. The tipple was Jesus Christ’s drink of choice at the last supper. The Messiah’s decision to sup from a glass of wine hours before his betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane ensured that the luxurious drink would become a staple of Catholic ritual for centuries and millennia to come.

This means that the Catholic Church has taken up the unlikely position of wines biggest champion. As Europe entered the age of enlightenment and conquered the new world, representatives of Rome followed in their wake.

They wanted to bring Catholic belief, culture and tradition to the peoples that had fallen under their sway. Therefore the church is known to have planted grape crops across conquered territories such as the Americas to preserve the Eucharist; the ritual where parishioners eat bread and take a sip of wine to emulate Christ’s infamous final meal.

Catholic Church kick start the Californian wine industry

This included California. The Golden State was conquered by the Spanish in the 16th and 17th centuries. Spain is a devout Catholic country and where Spanish soldiers tread, Spanish priests weren’t far behind.

The first vines were planted by Eusebio Francisco Kino, a Jesuit Missionary, in 1683. They didn’t take, but Franciscan missionaries gave it another go in the late 18th Century and that one did. From there the Californian wine industry grew. The region started producing commercial wines in the 1830’s and the quality of their output saw Californian wine become one of the most popular vintages in America.

Catholic Church saves Californian wine from prohibition

Until 1919. This was the year the Volstead Act and the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America were passed. They banned the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” Prohibition had begun.

Wine production all but stopped. However some wineries were allowed to make sacramental wine. By the time prohibition died its inevitable death in 1933, the US wine industry lay in shambles. However the Catholic Church had the knowledge and infrastructure the market needed to get it back on its feet. Priests from around the US were transferred to vineyards throughout the Golden State to kick start wine production.

One famous story is the tale of Brother Timothy. He was a high school athletic science teacher at the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He was transferred to the order’s Mont La Salle in Napa Valley’s Mount Veeder region in 1935. He became a wine chemist and lifted the order’s winery to new heights.

Stop and think

The next time you open a Harlan Estate 1998 from the Ideal Wine Company, stop and think. You wouldn’t be able to sample this fantastic vintage if it wasn’t for the Catholic Church. You learn something new every day!


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