I once asked Christian Moueix, the scion of the family that owns Bordeaux's Chateau Petrus, why he named his Napa Valley wine Dominus, Latin for "Lord God."
"A religious name for one's vineyard or wine is common in France," he said. Indeed, his home property, Petrus, means Peter, as in Saint Peter. On every bottle of Petrus, you see the first pope's likeness; in his hands he holds the papal keys.
In their use of religious names for wine, Germans seem to favor priests and nuns (Forster Jesuitengarten, Erdener Pralat, Durkheimer Nonnengarten). My favorite religious name for a wine is the Burgundian red Beaune Greves Vigne de l'Enfant Jesus, of which the Carmelite nuns who originally tended the vineyard are to have said, "This wine is so smooth that it slips down the throat like Baby Jesus in satin diapers." I cannot make that up.
History is steeped in religion and wine, in Europe clearly, but also in the New World. Were it not for religious orders of priests such as the Jesuits and Franciscans, wine's footprint in California and South America, even Australia and China, would be far different than it is.
Viewed even by unbelievers, religion functions as a meaning-giving and meaning-making human enterprise. Religion helps answer our questions about what really matters, about what's good and what's ultimate.
It helps us relate the everyday with what we might believe is outside or beyond the everyday, the transcendent — how our "here" fits with a "there."
As such, wine (and food, for wine is food in this way) has figured, through the long history of Western culture, as a medium or a contact between both secular and sacred time and place. This is an appropriate moment of the year to think about that.
The ancient Greeks considered wine itself to be divine; the here and the there were one and the same. In the "Odyssey," Ulysses, on the island of the Cyclops, finds "spontaneous wines from weighty clusters pour, And Jove descends in each prolific shower."
Noah is known as "the first vintner" because on disembarkation after the flood he immediately planted vines. Lucky for him, he needed to stow only one plant because most wine grapevines are hermaphroditic.
And so wine flows, through Greek and Roman symposia, Jewish Passovers and other rituals, and Christian Masses and ceremonies.
Using or not using wine even became an identifying marker, in modern times, for religious communities such as those in the Amana colonies or the Latter-day Saints.
In my view, we are able today to learn some significant secular lessons about the truth of wine from past religious experience with it.
I think especially about how Christian monks carved their names into the history of wine in Europe.
The most important example is the period of 700 unbroken years, from the Middle Ages until the French Revolution, when Benedictine and Cistercian monks labored in the vineyards of Burgundy, France, midwifing from one generation of monks to the next this incredibly fecund terroir.
This was not mere work for them; it was prayer. "Orare et labore," the monk's motto, is variously translated as "Work and pray, "To work is to pray" or "Work is prayer." (The motto lives to this day in hundreds of monastic communities throughout the world.)
The monks of Burgundy, in a way we have difficulty understanding in our more secular age, lived in a world that did not separate the natural from the spiritual.
These monks were able, over their 700-year stewardship of their vineyard land, to isolate the hundreds of parcels that we call the vineyards of Burgundy, to rank this one over that one in quality, to delineate (literally, "draw a line around"; they used stone fences) the specialness of each vineyard.
They could do this because they were much closer to nature than we are, much more attuned to its wildness and untamed way. They could listen to the individual voice in which each parcel of Burgundy spoke and fine-tune that voice for the next generation of winemaker.
This hypersensitivity to the ways of the Earth defines Burgundy; it is the quintessence of the idea of "terroir."
This ancient history is now come alive again. More and more modern winemakers find it to be their own best thinking about growing grapes and making wine.
But for the Burgundian monks, the nexus between God and grape was both their labor and their prayer, their here and their there, one and the same.
It is a rather inspirational way to think about wine, even today.
Bill St John has been writing and teaching about wine for more than 30 years.