St Vincent

Saint Vincent is the Patron Saint of winemakers. He is the main man. Many region of Europe have their own individual Saint who looks after their winemakers and winemaking however Vincent is considered to be the main man.

Wine and religion have been involved forever and when the Christian’s came along it was no surprise they took up wine as part of their sacraments. St Vincent of Saragossa died in 304, martyred during the last great  persecution of the Christians under the Roman Emperors Maximian and Diocletian. Vincent was burnt on a grid so could also be our saint of braaiers !! By early  medieval times , St Vincent had been adopted as a patron saint by vineyard workers and winemakers in France and most of Europe. There is no real evidence why a Spanish person should have been chosen as the Patron Saint. It seems the French choose him because his name began with “Vin” the French word for wine.

His actual Saints Day is 22nd January which works well in Europe as that is about when they all are involved in determining  just how good the previous vintage was.  During January, St Vincent of Saragossa, is honoured throughout  Europe with celebrations and prayers , lots of ceremonial stuff ,  and, of course, wine tasting.

The cultural connection between religion and wine is probably the oldest cultural tradition that exists and surely goes back to before recorded history. We know it was before 4241 bc  which is when the Egyptians began marking time with a calendar. Of course the ancient world  knew of other intoxicating substances…poppy juice, hallucinogenic mushrooms and in the Americas  Peyote and the leaves of the Coca plant. All have been associated with religious ecstasy. Over the long haul of world history, wine has proven to be the religious stimulation of choice. Wine is less deleterious and less liable to lead to dangerous abuse than the poisons mentioned.  Whatever the reasons , wine was established in the ancient world as the beverage of the Gods and was almost always  associated with religious feasts and as libations offered t please the deities  who control our fate.

In South Africa thanks has been offered for a good harvest from earliest times.  In the 1970’s the KWV introduced  an award to be presented on 2nd February each year commemorating  Jan Van Riebeeck’s first pressing of grapes in 1659 and honouring a personality in the industry.  With the demise of the original KWV this custom fell away but has been reintroduced by Groot Constantia. A very grand affair is hosted by Groot Constantia and begins with a multi-denominational blessing of the current vintage. Later in the evening the new personality is honoured.

A far less posh   event takes place in Stellenbosch each year at the Catholic Church, Saint Nicholas, as close as possible to 22nd January, the feast of the Patron Saint of Winemakers, Saint Vincent of Saragossa.  This year will be the 22nd such mass which is attended by all denominations and is followed by a simple lunch at La Pineta restaurant.  The Mass is well attended by winemakers in their cellar kit and sporting some vintage growth of beard. The collection goes to the local Hospice.