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"Wine rejoices the heart of man, and joy is the mother of all virtue.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German polymath, painter, novelist, scientist, philosopher and diplomat, 1749-1832.


Modern Monks and American Wine 

Winery Insight Featured Article - June 2006 by Timothy O. Rice


One day in May, I was surprised to find that monks were making wine.


I was reading an article online at the time.  The monks were from the Roman Catholics Cistercian order of Benedictines, who have been involved with the making of wine from the Middle Ages in Europe.  The winery is their first in North America.  The monks of the Abbey of New Clairveaux grow the grapes and make the wine, described as a very serious Syrah, in Vina, California.


The article set me to thinking.  Like many people, I knew that monks had been involved in the making of wine for a very long time.  I remembered that Dom Perignon was credited with inventing champagne hundreds of years back.  I remembered that Spanish missionaries had brought winemaking to California.  I recalled lots of old tales, but almost nothing about monks or religious orders making wine today in America.  Since we try to keep abreast of information about American wineries, that bothered me.  I racked my brains a bit to see what I could dredge up.


There was the famous Brother Timothy at Christian Brothers in California.  One of the men who made Napa famous, with Robert Mondavi and a handful of other giants.  That legendary winemaker of Napa had retired many years ago, and had passed on less than two years ago, aged 94.  The winery had been sold to a conglomerate, and the order no longer owned it.


There was an order in North Dakota, at Assumption Abbey, that produced sacramental wine and sold a bit to the public.  I checked.  They didn't make their own wines, but purchased them as a private label from California.


There was Brotherhood in New York, but they had never even been a religious order -- just a commune in the nineteenth century.  Wait, there is a winery in California called Freemark Abbey!  But I looked and the Abbey in the name was Albert "Abbey" Ahearn, one of the owners in a distant day.


There was ... The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey in Canyon City, Colorado.  Was that still a religious order?  Was it ever?  I went to their website for a look.  The Abbey is another Benedictine order, but it has been there since the 1880s, established as an Abbey in 1925.  They were making wine in 1924, at least, probably sacramental wine.  What we now see as The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey opened in 2002 and looks beautiful.


That was all I came up with.  In America it seems winemaking had little to do with religious orders and more to do with small growers and immigrants yearning for the wine they had always known.  In Europe, monastic and other religious orders had kept winemaking alive north of the Alps when the barbarians came and the Roman Empire fell.


So I went back to see a little more about this new effort in the Abbey of New Clairveaux.


The Abbey is on land that once belonged to Leland Stanford: railroad man, Governor of California, and founder of the university.  The biggest winery in the world, it was said, was there in the late 1800s before the vineyards were ripped out and the winery closed early in the twentieth century..  The monks moved there from Kentucky more than 50 years ago, trying their hands at other agricultural pursuits, and finally replanting and harvesting grapes according to their centuries-old traditions.


Their first batch of wine was from the 2002 harvest.  They have expanded their plantings now from three acres to eight, and they include petite sirah, tempranillo, graciano, zinfandel, barbera, viognier and muscat blanc grapes.  Retreat services are offered, but I did not see that they have a tasting room.  Check out their website at for more information.


We would be interested in hearing from anyone who knows of other existing wineries run by religious orders in the US.  Please send an Email to if you know of one.  Thanks.

 Last modified: August 07, 2007