As the first few tractor and trailer loads of grapes start to make their presence felt on the roads of the winelands it’s good to be reminded that Christ’s first miracle was turning water into wine. This was the subject of the reading at a special mass held in Stellenbosch this week – as it has been for the past 16 years.
Southern hemisphere winemakers are in the fortunate position of having the feast day of the patron saint of winemaking, St Vincent, fall very close to the annual harvest. Vignerons in the northern hemisphere celebrate his feast day (January 22) while snow is still on the ground, whick makes for a chilly event. Not that it stops the Burgundian Confreries resplendent in their scarlet regalia from having a darn fine parade and feast over the last weekend in January.
In Stellenbosch the event is low key, having been held at the local Catholic church for the past 16 years. It must be said that although having patron saints is a Catholic thing, many of the worshippers who attend the event observe other religions. Behind it all is the bushy-bearded ‘Ole man wine’ of the SA fraternity, Dave Hughes, and he always makes a point of inviting someone from another religion to deliver the sermon. Having a Jewish, Buddhist or Muslim perspective presented during mass makes the conversation over lunch at La Pineta interesting!
The collection taken goes to the Stellenbosch hospice which currently provides care to 600 patients in the district – up substantially from the 100 patients when the observance of St Vincent’s began nearly two decades ago. Another interesting local tradition is that the winemakers (and some distillers) bring along a bottle or six that is then donated to the church and provides enjoyment for the clergy.
As Dave says, it’s handy having a bit of spiritual intervention if you’re a producer reliant on the vagaries of the weather…