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Copyright © 2015
Forkmedia LLC

by Fred McMillin
for March 21, 2000


Feast of St. Benedict, March 21


Benedict of Nursia (c.480-547) was the founder of Western monasticism, which saved viticulture during the fall of the Roman Empire and the ensuing Dark Ages.

...Monks and Wine, Desmond Seward

The Sky is Falling

Near the ruins of Nero's palace at Subiaco, the hermit had little cause for optimism. In the decades prior to his birth:

  • The Roman legions withdrew from the British Isles because they were needed at home.
  • Barbarians laid siege to Rome until they were persuaded to leave by payments that included 3,000 pounds of coveted pepper.
  • Vandals were invading Spain, and captured Carthage in North Africa.
  • In 455 A.D., the barbarians were back and sacked Rome.

    The Solution

    So the first Benedictine monestary was founded in the hill-town of Cassino. The 15 members divided their time between prayer (they sang all 150 psalms each week), study and agriculture, including viticulture. St. Benedict's 12,000 word Rule of the Master limited wine consumption to half a pint a day.

    The Legacy

    Field Stone Sangiovese  

    For the next five centuries, the only monks were Benedictines. Desmond Seward tells us why their vineyards survived the Visigoths and their ilk...the well-educated, black-robed monks were feared as miracle-workers and magicians. Usually, the monestaries and their vineyards were left alone.

    OK. So today's wine must be made from a varietal that grew in Italy when St. Benedict did, and the winery must have an ecclesiastic connection. The envelope, please.

    The varietal is Sangiovese. Early models of the grape were alive and well near Florence in 500 A.D. The winery is Field Stone. Reverand John Staten is co-owner, and Reverend Roger Hull is the spokesman. Here's their wine.

    1997 Field Stone Sangiovese
    North Coast (Mendocino and Alexander Valley)
    Clones—Includes the Estate's vines of the celebrated Brunello clones.
    The Future—This is the first vintage. Watch for the '98. My Panel's Reaction—Excellent varietal flavors.
    Food Affinities—This is a friendly, flavorful red, not a purple powerhouse. Just as good with a pastrami sandwich at noon, as with an elegant rack of lamb in the evening.
    Price—$18 range (hurry, only 1,100 cases)


    I like the name of a layman who gave St. Benedict "two wooden flasks of wine"—the admirer was "Exhilaratus."

    About the Writer

    Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


    This page created March 2000