A day at the Abbey drinking wine!

What is it with wine and religion that makes for such an interesting partnership? With Jesus turning water into wine and monks worldwide carving a role for themselves in the wine industry it seems the two have never been closer and who am I to complain when a trip to the abbey, the Novacella Abbey in Bressanone in this case, goes from being a staid historical affair to a good excuse to purchase a few bottles of grape nectar.

My knowledge of wine  is still in its fledging stages despite years of consumption but having attended a recent wine course held by friend and sommelier Chiara Giovoni little by little I’m starting to appreciate the finer details. I now know to search for floral versus fruity notes to help identify a Chardonnay from a Reisling from a Cabernet Sauvignon even if my end guess is still off track. I take extra time to appreciate the taste and analyse, albeit simply, what I am drinking. And I think about which wine to pair up with my food whenever I open a bottle or host a dinner party so I like to think  that in my own simple way I am learning.

The Abbey of Novacella near Bressanone is surrounded by vineyards so on arrival it is indeed hard to know if you’ve come to see an historic relic or simply to browse the cantina, and the strategically placed store ensures that most visitors are hard pressed to make it back to their car without first stopping to make a purchase.

The abbey was rebuilt in 1190 after a fire devastated the original building and soon found a name for itself with its celebrated choir. It subsequently suffered from years of difficulty and plunderers during the French revolution in which Austria was an active participant against France and was used by both warring parties to house their troops. When Austria finally regained territories lost to the French in the early 1800’s the monastery was in a dire condition and had lost much of its previously owned land. Part of its revival was the opening of a private school which enjoyed a reign from 1844 till 1960 when it was forced to close as part of the fascist “Italianisation” programme when the region fell to Italy after the second world war. During both the first and second world wars the abbey again suffered damage at the hands of the military and it wasn’t until recent years that it was restored to its former glory. Today the abbey is able to maintain itself through the production of agricultural products and has found a new name for itself as a producer of celebrated wines.

Sitting plum in the middle of the Alto Adige wine region it stands to reason that before long the abbey would put their land to good use cultivating grapes and other fruit crops. The original objective was quite possibly to supply the abbey with its own wine for personal consumption but has since turned into a major revenue stream that helps maintain the rambling abbey buildings. With mineral rich soils, altitudes of 1,970 ft to 2,950 ft and a cool climate the abbey now grows four varieties of white grape Sylvaner, Kerner, Gewürztraminer and Veltliner and uses other vineyards in central Alto Adige to grow their red grapes for their Lagrein and Pinot Nero.

Wine tasting is available every day except Sunday for a price of €7.50 per person and guided tours are organised on request. Tastings are accompanied by local cheeses and cured meats and take place in the unique setting of the monastery cellar. As bad luck would have it I visited on a Sunday so was unable to take the tour so instead satisfied myself by buying a bottle of Praepositivs Reisling 2009, a Praepositivs Gewürztraminer 2010 and a Lagrein 2010 to taste later at home.

With wine mentioned no less than 155 times in the old testament it seems pre-destined that wine and religion shall be forever intertwined with perhaps the most famous contributor being the monk Dom Perignon. Could wine be the new religion for those of us who enjoy a tipple? As I sit enjoying my bottle of Gewürztraminer in the late afternoon sun I would say “quite possibly”!


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