Wine and Religion

Although I was raised Catholic, and endured countless Thursday afternoons of catechism during my grade school years, religion in any form has not exactly been my thing.

One finds hypocrisy in all things, of course, and the Catholic Church — like all faiths — has certainly practiced its fair share, often resulting in appalling headlines (although Pope Francis, it must be said, deserves much credit for bringing a welcome dose of 21st Century thinking to this ancient institution). 

And one can argue from either side as to whether or not any religion has done much good for humanity. In this regard when I think of, say, the glorious architecture that created the world's great churches, Bach's sacred music, or Michelangelo's frescoes, I'm inclined to think positively.

And then of course, there is wine.

Without Christianity the history of wine would tell a very different story. To quote from Jasper Morris' Inside Burgundy:

"As early as 640 we find the recent foundation of Nôtre Dame de Bèze establishing a vineyard in Gevrey-Chambertin... Then, either side of the first millennium, the monastic foundations really began to exert an influence. The church needed vineyards for various reasons, of which providing wine for communion was but a small part. Hospitality requirements and the prestige of being able to provide wines of quality were vital components which could also play a political role."

Indeed, studying the history of wine in general and specifically Burgundy has made me ever grateful to fellows like the monk pictured at the top of the page (who is depicted drinking from what appears to be an early Zalto prototype). And lest we forget, the monks are also largely responsible for mapping Burgundy as we know it today, and for being what we might call the original terroirists.

And then last Sunday at Z Space in the Mission Sher and I experienced a rather extraordinary performance by New York's Wooster Group, who sang, a cappella, and later sort of danced to a series of historic Shaker Spirituals originally released on the Rounder Records label in 1976. One in particular captured my attention.

"Who Will Bow and Bend like the Willow"

Who will bow and bend like the willow, who will turn and twist and reel

In the gale of simple freedom, from the bower of union flowing

Who will drink the wine of power, dropping down like a shower

Pride and bondage all forgetting, Mother's wine is freely working

Oh ho, I will have it, I will bow and bend to get it

I'll be reeling, turning, twisting, shake out all the starch and stiff'ning