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A Harvest Blessing in Tuscany

James Suckling
Posted: February 3, 2000

A Harvest Blessing in Tuscany

"God watereth the hills from above: the earth is filled with the fruit of thy works. He bringeth forth grass for the cattle, and green herb for the service of man: that he may bring food out of the earth; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man." -- Psalms 104:13-15

By James Suckling, senior editor

So began our Mass for a prosperous wine harvest on Oct. 8 in the hills of Tuscany. It was a simple event held at Fattoria Petrolo, a top producer of red wines, some 30 miles south of Florence. The group of about 60 people included friends and harvest workers from the estate. We were together to celebrate the end of the harvest in Tuscany.

"This is a celebration of wine as a gift of nature and of the creator," said the Rev. Richard Major of St. Mark's English Church in Florence, who delivered the service in a mixture of English, Latin and Italian. (Read the complete transcript of the service and blessing.) Most of his 20-minute service and blessing of the grapes was from a Latin Vulgate bible from A.D. 390. "Every day in just about every county in the world, wine is used as a vehicle of worship," he said. "It is no different today."

I have attended harvest blessings and celebrations in various parts of Europe, from the grandest of chateaus in Bordeaux to the simplest farms in the Douro Valley of Portugal. All of them have common themes: Wine is more than just wine, and the harvest is more than simply picking grapes to make wine.

"I've wanted to have a blessing of the harvest for some time now," said Luca Sanjust, one of the owners of Petrolo and the host of an informal alfresco lunch after the service for all those attending. "The blessing is so important. It makes you realize that wine and the harvest are more important than we are. It is a mystical moment that we must all celebrate. It has been like that for thousands of years."

The Mass, held under the warm Tuscan sun just above one of Petrolo's vineyards, was a full Communion service. The wine used was the Petrolo Vin Santo 1993. The lesson was taken from the "Song of Songs," from Chapters 4 and 5. And the gospel was the wedding of Cana -- the transformation of water into wine.

After the service, Major blessed a basket of freshly picked Sangiovese grapes. He used this prayer as he blessed several bunches of the rich, black fruit: "Bless, O Lord, this token of Thy munificence in the grape harvest. Bless this year's vintage and those who shall tend it, and may all who taste of it be filled with joy. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be upon you!"

A full-blown picnic barbecue followed. Tables overflowed with salami, freshly baked bread, grilled sausages and pork chops, not to mention bottle after bottle of Toscana Terre di Galatrona 1997. Everyone was in a festive mood. For that moment at least, we all felt blessed to be sharing the sunshine, good food, rich wine and brotherhood.

"We don't really have a tradition for a wine blessing or celebration like this in Italy," said one of the pickers, or vendemiatori. "It's strange that the most Catholic country of them all doesn't really have a blessing for a wine harvest. But it's a wonderful idea."

Added Major after the service, "Modern man often believes that he invents everything, but we have traditions such as the wine harvest that illustrate otherwise." With that, he lifted his glass of wine and quietly toasted all those in attendance.

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