Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"The Spirituality of Wine": a thoughtful, moving book

When Jesus performed his first miracle, he didn't multiply the loaves and fishes to feed 5000 hungry people. He didn't heal the sick or raise a man from the dead.

Jesus was at a wedding feast in Cana where the hosts ran out of wine. The guests must have been buzzed, as they'd consumed all the wine in the house already. Jesus could have just gone home and let the party break up. Instead, he transformed water into wine, and not just any old plonk, but excellent wine. "It was of such high quality that the sommelier responsible for wine at that that party commented to the groom about its quality -- completely astonished by it," writes Gisela H. Kreglinger, in her new book "The Spirituality of Wine."

Kreglinger returns repeatedly to the story of the feast of Cana in her thoughtful book, which I, an unbeliever, guzzled like a man thirsting for meaning. Kreglinger, a native of Germany's Franconia wine region, was raised in a family of vintners, holds a PhD in historical theology and taught Christian spirituality for four years. Her book weaves together many issues of the modern wine world, debates you will recognize, with the wisdom of the past.

I began reading it to learn more about wine in the Bible, but I ended up feeling inspired, thirsty for a glass of wine that represents a vintner's commitment to the land. (I slaked that with one of Grant Burge's single-vineyard Shirazes from Barossa Valley, proving that God does work in mysterious ways.)

What the miracle of Cana teaches us is the Bible's most important lesson about wine, yet one that too many American Christian sects have forgotten: wine is supposed to make us joyful. It is God's gift for our happiness. Kreglinger writes, "Wine is a gift from God and enhances our festive play before God. The accusation that Christians have no joy is a terrible one because joy should lie at the heart of the Christian life."

In fact, Jesus liked wine so much that his fellow Jews accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard. Kreglinger writes of the many warnings in the Bible against drinking to excess which have been seized on out of context to justify abstinence and even Prohibition. But these miss the overriding point. Wine was a part of daily life in the time of Christ, an important source of nutrition and medicine as well as joy, and Jesus wanted his followers to drink wine, to feast and be merry.

Kreglinger interviews some thoughtful lapsed Christian winemakers: Siduri's Adam Lee, Jason Lett of the Eyrie Vineyard in Oregon, Mike Officer of Sonoma County's Carlisle Wine Cellars. She writes, "When I first approached Jason Lett about the spirituality of wine, he was hesitant because he did not think he had anything to contribute to this subject matter. Little did he know.

"Jason Lett has stopped taking notes when he tastes wine. It is hard to put into words what one experiences when one drinks a well-crafted wine. But there is one thing that Jason knows when he tastes a good bottle of Pinot Noir: the energy of a conversation will improve with a good bottle of wine, and it will enhance the conversation. Jason believes a wine picks up and reflects the attitude of the people who craft it, and the wine can transmit that attitude to those who drink it. It is a form of communication, and it works much like music. Music evokes an emotional response without depicting anything directly emotional. Wine does it in the same way."

Many have written on the topics of natural yeast and biodynamic viticulture and of making wines that express what nature gives us, rather than standardized beverages made in a factory. With her historical knowledge, Kreglinger recognizes the importance of technology in making good wine. Even a curved harvest knife was once a technological advance. In an era of zealot wine writers, this theologian has a nuanced view. She's pro-technology, but also pro-terroir, and only objects when the former tramples on the latter.

Technology, she writes, "is profoundly linked to human creativity ... Very few drinks in the world have the capacity to mirror the beauty hidden in creation as does one small glass of wine. This capacity is why Robert Louis Stevenson called wine 'bottled poetry.' Wine, when crafted well, is like a poem that praises the bounties of God's goodness hidden in Earth, wind, rain, sun, and the vine. The vintner has a profoundly sacred vocation: to reveal to us the splendor and bounty that God placed into his creation for us to discover and enjoy. In light of this belief, vintners should use technology with discernment, self-restraint and creativity to discover the bounties in the places they call home."

I could write more about this book: how Jesus called himself a grapevine, how the importance of wine as medicine survived even in early Islamic culture, and how the film "Babette's Feast" shows the transformation of a devout yet miserable community through the festive consumption of delicious wine. But I suggest you discover it for yourself.

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joe ako said...

Important that your readers and Gisela H. Kreglinger readers know, the first time we read about wine mentioned in the Bible, when Noah left the Ark. His first agricultural endeavor was to plant vines.

In addition Jews drink wine every week on the Sabbath and make a blessing on the wine to honor the Sabbath. Also, during all the other Jewish holidays, weddings, Bar and Bat mitzvah, by the circumcision when the boy is just eight days old, they give him a drop of wine to sip. We know the reason that G-d created wine, is to gladden the heart of people as stated in Psalms.

Today they make many great kosher wines in Israel. The wines easily compete on par with the best Bordeaux, Burgundies, Italian and Californian, etc. wine of the world, (although a bit overpriced). That is so, because G-d, allowed the Jewish people to return to their only land and rebuild the holy land again.

Leo said...

By G-d you mean GOD? ;-)

joe ako said...

Leo have it your way! It's all the same and only infinite creator.

Bob Henry said...

I have an anecdote to recite.

My early mentor was Robert Balzer, the peerless Los Angeles Times wine editor. In his wine appreciation course, he encouraged us students to visit the Los Angeles County Fair where he participated as a wine judge. Each September at the Pomona fairgrounds the public can taste hundreds of wines that were awarded a Gold Medal. (For a nominal fee of about 2 bucks per 1-ounce sample -- independent of how much the wine sells for at retail.)

During one visit to the fair, I came across a table set up outside of the wine pavilion "manned" by devout members of the Women's Temperance Movement, who were preaching abstinence.

I engaged them in conversation.

Asked them what was their interpretation of the Christian Bible when it came to the marriage ceremony at Cana.

They asserted that the celebrants drank unfermented grape juice -- not wine.

That the Jews of the "Old" Testament drank unfermented grape juice -- not wine.

That drinking alcohol was a sin.

I demurred in my reading of those ancient texts.

And moved on to sample the award-winning wines that brought me to the fair that day. (And brought me back in subsequent years.)

2016 judging results:

"The 2016 Los Angeles International Wine Competition received 3,010 wines from 995 wineries. There were a total of 168 Best of Class Awards, 572 Gold Medal Awards, 1,271 Silver Medal Awards and 736 Bronze Medal Awards. The competition received wines from 23 countries; Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Romania, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, Uruguay and the United States."


joe ako said...

Thanks for sharing!
The bible never refers to grape juice as wine. The commandments of the libation on the alter and the drinking of wine during Jewish holidays requires that the wine have alcohol.
Have a fun summer.

Bob Henry said...


Found on the Web: a seemingly well researched, and well reasoned POV on wine and the Bible.




~~ Bob

joe ako said...

I am not familiar with the Christian religion. I am Jewish and the most important part of the Jewish religion is the Bible (the Old Testament). The Jewish religion according to the bible requires that during holidays Etc. one should drink a glass of wine.
Most importantly everything G-d created, has a purpose to be used for and enjoyed to make this world a better place for mankind.
Best always,

Gisela said...

Bob, I think I do a much better job and more comprehensive in my book "The Spirituality of Wine" in exploring the role of wine in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.
And Joe, there is no Christian understanding of wine apart from understanding the Jewish view of wine as shown in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Gisela (Kreglinger)

joe ako said...

Most interesting after the destruction of the second temple and the Jews were dispersed into the diaspora. The continuation and culture of wine expanded around the world, by Christian dominated societies and nations.

As for the Jewish people in the diaspora they needed wine mostly for religious purposes, and most nations did not allow them to own land to cultivate vineyards. Today the Jewish people again can return to their land in Israel, the place that they, cultivated the original and best growing vineyards of the past. Now again you have in the land of Israel, the most flourishing world class vineyards. This is my own Jewish understanding.

Best always,

W. Blake Gray said...

Joe: I know a reasonable amount about Israeli wine, and I am excited about it, but that's not really how it happened.

Wine in Israel was gone, completely, after centuries under Muslim rule. Baron Rothschild re-established it in the 1800s, but there was no continual knowledge of where good vineyards were in the past.

And that's not what anyone tried to do. The Israeli wine industry was all about volume and mostly sweet white wine until the 1990s.

But the best vineyards ... that's a problem. Read this: http://palatepress.com/2016/04/wine/wines-of-the-west-bank/

joe ako said...

Thank you for sharing your informative article according to the way you see the Jewish land of Israel. Once ones political agendas are involved they will cloud the realities.

The Jewish people never abandoned the land of Israel. They were forced out and humiliated into exile by the Romans. Embrace the fact that you are witnessing history how an ancient people are returning to where their roots began.

I truly respect the Jewish people without any negativity. The Jewish people are in the land of Israel, because it was theirs and where their roots began approximately 3,300 years ago. That since the Jewish people were in exile for the past 2000 years every country they lived in they were living under heavy restrictions and persecution.

Now I truly respect that they are back in their own homeland and I am appreciative of the beautiful land that was desolate less than seventy-five years ago. The land is now flourishing and creating the best technologies and agricultural systems in the world, and vineyards and wines on par with any wine in the world. Yes bad wines are coming out of Israel. Also, bad wines are produced in every other wine growing region in the world.

One only needs to accept the actual reality of the Jewish people. Then they will appreciate the Jewish people’s workmanship and great wines, as they are now.