Sacramental Wine

Passion and History of the Sacrament

“The Passion of Christ” movie still causes controversy like wine swirling in a glass, years after its debut.

I thought the history of communion and the use of wine as part of the religious life might be of interest to more than just me.  The wine growing regions of California were established as part of the mission expansion northward, to provide wine for communion.

Skip ahead a little under 200 years and with Prohibition in effect pretty much the only wine being produced in California was sacramental wine.  The survival of the  local  wine regions still exist because the production was saved by the need to have wine to celebrate one’s religion.
There is a the wealth of linguistic and cultural evidence that points to dozens of living rituals, from the Kiddush, or Sabbath “blessing over wine” which is central to Jewish life, to the communion wine of Christianity.
Communion wine, according to the bible, originated at the Last Supper when Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine.  After he was crucified, he appeared to Peter and again gave him bread and wine. Jesus told Peter that whenever he ate bread during the Mass, it would turn into the flesh of Jesus inside him, and whenever he drank wine during the Mass, it would turn into the blood of Jesus. This is called transubstantiation. In this way every Christian could be part of God and Jesus would be constantly reborn into the world.

California’s original wine makers were Spanish missionaries.  The padres planted what came to be known as the Mission grape, which was replaced over time with various European root stocks.  Those root stocks were almost negated by the plant parasite, phylloxera, which was discovered in England in 1863. An ironic solution was found when it was discovered that the roots of some wild American grapes were resistant to the disease. So by grafting the European vitis vinifera cuttings to sturdier American roots, the vineyards of the world were saved.

The California Wine Grape rose from those ashes just in time to be side swiped by the Volstead Act of 1920 that ushered in thirteen years of Prohibition. A few wineries survived by producing sacramental wines, and a loophole in the Act permitting home wine making allowed some wine growers to survive by selling to that market but huge amounts of premium wine plants were pulled out and more than two-thirds of California’s wineries closed.

The introduction of wine as a part of ceremony dates back to early times. In Greco-Roman legend the god Dionysus is identified with bringing the art of wine making westward from lands east of Persia. Biblical scholars who name Noah as the first cultivator of wine grapes describe him as settling down after the flood to become the first wine maker.

Molecular archeology is an emerging field that applies the precision tools of micro chemical analysis to the study of prehistoric artifacts. Scrapings of residue from pots can identify key ingredients that once were stored inside them, even if only a few micrograms


2 Responses to “Sacramental Wine”

  1. Hi Are you able to provide the contact details of growers involved in the production of “sacremental wines”?

  2. Thanks for the comment!
    Guasti altar wine http://www.josephfilippiwinery.com/altar-wines.html is one of the few in California. Sacramental Wine can be any pure grape (no additives); just grapes and water. Some of it is fortified so it won’t go bad. The largest difference is whether it has been consecrated or not, and that happens at the church. I would suggest you check with local churches to see what distributor they use. Growing up in the Anglican church in Canada, Lightly fortified Chablis was the grape of choice.

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