Working To Survive, Alternate Edition


The St. James vineyard at the Abbey of New Clairvaux. The 20 brothers of the abbey belong to an order with a tradition of winemaking that dates back nearly 900 years. Lisa Morehouse for NPR

Thanks to the folks over at the salt, at NPR (USA):

He’s talking about their long white robes and their beautiful but unadorned plywood church. The brothers spend hours every day in silence and prayer.

“I really believe that it’s important that there are people who are totally, 100 percent devoted to prayer,” Brother Christopher says.

But the monks need to work to survive. They live off their own labor — not donations — and winemaking is one of their efforts.

Brother Rafael Florez is in the abbey’s St. James vineyard, wearing the work uniform of jeans and a navy sweatshirt to prune vines. When he came here from Ecuador 18 years ago, he’d been seeking the right religious order for all of his adult life. He also had no experience with grapes, but he’s part of a long legacy of Cistercian vintners. European monks of their order have made wine for nearly 900 years, including at one of the most celebrated wineries in the world, Clos de Vougeot. For Brother Rafael this work and his vocation go hand in hand.

“One thing that has been extremely helpful for me is to know myself by pruning,” Brother Rafael says. “What you do with the vines is you’re constantly removing what is extra. You remove the extra clusters, you remove the extra leaves and canopy. For what?”

It’s so the remaining grapes have space to develop beautifully. Brother Rafael continues, “It’s the same with me in my interior life. I need to remove what is superfluous.”

Bother Rafael has a lot to contend with on the vineyard. It gets unrelentingly hot here, without the cool nights of other California wine regions. Then there’s the soil: deep, moist, and sandy. That seems great to the outsider, but wine grapes do best in rocky soil, where they have to work harder to grow. Brother Rafael says he can spend 20 minutes removing leaves from a row of vines, and when he goes back to the beginning of the row, the leaves have already started to grow back. “It’s very labor intense.”

Given these conditions, why would a winemaker like Sunseri want to become business partners with the monks of New Clarivaux?

“I like the challenge,” she says.

Her family has made wine in Napa and other parts of California for five generations…

Read or listen to the whole story here.

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