Wine-Making Monks in California Continue 900-Year-Old Tradition

wine trappist monks

Go beyond the busy, tourist-filled vineyards of Napa and you’ll find the uniquely monk-run New Clairvaux winery in the town of Vina, Northern California. According to NPR, the vineyards are maintained and the wine is produced by a group of 20 Trappist brothers, a subset of the Cistercian order, who have a long tradition of wine making.

While the European monks of the Cistercian order have been making wine in the Burgundy region for almost 900 years, the Abbey of New Clairveaux has only been at it for just over a decade. These monks also have some help from winemaker Aimee Sunseri, who heads up operations at the winery. Sunseri has to work around the Trappist’s prayer schedule, but says it doesn’t bother her one bit: “They fulfill something in my life, and they’ve got some core values I hope rub off on me.” She also sees the less-than-perfect sandy soil conditions in Vina as a challenge for her and the monks to overcome together.

All of the monks who work at New Clairvaux see their work as spiritual,  just another step toward becoming closer to God. Brother Rafael Florez even compared pruning the grape vines to cleaning all that is unnecessary out of one’s spiritual life: “What you do with the vines is you’re constantly removing what is extra…It’s the same with me in my interior life. I need to remove what is superfluous.” And while the monks are mostly secluded from the rest of the world, they see engaging with the public as a result of their wine (which routinely sells out as soon as it’s released for sale) as a way to invite people into their “sacred space.” Doesn’t hurt that the wine’s tasty, too. [NPR][Photo: Flickr/tripb]