Pope Francis Prayed for 'Natural' Wine, and Lo, a Winery Answered

Il Papa set high standards for holy wine, and an Italian vineyard heeded his call with a new cuvée. Plus, wine and food at SXSW with chef Dominique Crenn, Blackberry Farm's Andy Chabot and LeBron's Instagram; and Champagne Pommery's art prize kicks off the New York Armory Show
Pope Francis Prayed for 'Natural' Wine, and Lo, a Winery Answered
Students in class at the Agricultural Institute of Todi; Francis gets the pope cup. (Courtesy of the Agricultural Institute of Todi / Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty Images)
Mar 14, 2019

Yesterday marked six years since Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio got promoted to Pope Francis I. Knowing Il Papa's devotion to wine and wine parties, Catholics around the world raised a glass to the anniversary, or at least sent happy P-Day wishes that "every day you may experience the oil of the Holy Spirit and the wine of ecclesial communion," as the Italian Bishops’ Conference did.

But one winery remembered that among Francis' many decrees in his busy tenure was a wine request he made two years ago: that the Eucharist wine be made "natural … pure and incorrupt." So it was written, so it shall be done, they decided.

Berit wine
Courtesy of the Agricultural Institute of Todi
White wine, red wine, it's all the fruit of the vine.

"Pope Francis strongly called for a 'correct' origin and production of the wines for Holy Mass. 'The wine must be natural, from the fruit of the vine and not altered,'" winemaker/educator Gilberto Santucci explained to Unfiltered via email; the pope's circular also requested wine made with "honesty, responsibility and competence." In response, Santucci and his team created a Grechetto (a white wine, curiously, for the Eucharist) made at the Agricultural Institute of Todi, Umbria, about two hours via Popemobile north of St. Peter's. Santucci is the educational farm coordinator; the vines are tended and grapes harvested in nearby vineyards by students of the institute, assisted by occupants of the community's homeless shelters. A teaching winemaker oversees clean techniques in the cellar.

The Diocese of Orvieto-Todi then checks bottles for churchworthiness. "[This is a] wine that perfectly corresponds to the provisions of the Code [of Canon Law], being subjected to all the required checks and ecclesiastical authorizations," said Santucci—making it an Official Wine of Catholic Mass. The conscientious viniculture and submission for ecclesiastical oversight are in keeping with Francis' circular. As a collaboration of students, the diocese and charities, they decided to call the wine Berit—"Alliance."

The first harvest of Berit was in 2016, and the school currently makes 2,000 half-bottles (the format is a nod to the Vatican's provision that the wine be "well conserved and not soured"). In addition to service at service, you can get it for moments of quiet contemplation at home under the school's Bottega Montecristo label. Santucci now hopes the wine reaches the papal palate, of course, but his heart is glad and tongue rejoices anyway: "In Berit wine, experiences, practices and values that best express the sense of [this] community, are added together."

Wine Faces Tough Questions, Lively Debates at SXSW

The "W" in SXSW doesn't stand for "wine," but you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise at this year's festival, held in Austin this week. South by Southwest has brought together the brightest and hippest minds in tech, film, music, food, entertainment and politics, including Lupita Nyong’o, Olivia Wilde, Matthew McConaughey, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. But it also brought together a lot of wine—or, at least, people who wanted to talk about it.

This year, the conference series featured not one, but two speaker panels focused on the wine industry. On Monday, the "Future Wine: Millennials, Tech and Change" panel addressed some of the biggest uncertainties surrounding the industry. Led by Rob Wilder, co-founder of José Andrés' ThinkFoodGroup and creator of the WineGame app, experts in wine-tech and generational studies discussed hot topics ranging from the youth of today's apparent lower interests in wine to whether NBA star LeBron James' #winestagram posts can save the industry.

Courtesy of Rob Wilder
From left: Rob Wilder, Heather Watson of the Center for Generational Kinetics, and Heini Zachariassen of Vivino

"Nobody has the silver bullet, but we can try to establish the framework to think differently about how [we] are going to get people excited about their products in new ways," Wilder told Unfiltered.

After the panelists hashed out their opinions, the audience was more than eager to weigh in as well. "It's fascinating that people are really thinking about this deeply—and this is not a beverage industry conference!" Wilder said. "I was really impressed by the comments that people made, and they were thinking about these questions and coming up with answers, leading me to the optimism that we're going to get this right."

On Wednesday, "Name Brand: The Age of Celebrity Spirits and Wine," put another polarizing wine topic on the SXSW stage. Featuring Jesse Bongiovi—co-founder of Hampton Water Wine Co. with his father, Jon Bon Jovi—the panel chatted about the rise of celebrity-backed wine and liquor brands, and the difference between a celeb who simply endorses an item and one who's putting in the work.

Part of the food track of SXSW, wine shared the spotlight with leaders in dining: Chef Dominique Crenn, of Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winning spot Atelier Crenn, was a big hit on the featured panel, "Localizing Food to Restore Human Health." On Wednesday, Andy Chabot, food and beverage director at the renowned Grand Award winner Blackberry Farm, and Kyle Connaughton, philanthropist and chef-owner of Best of Award of Excellence winner SingleThread Farms, talked about building a healthy and positive workplace on the panel "Ingredients for an Empathetic Kitchen." The kids, it seems, may be all right after all.

Pommery Prize Kicks Off New York Armory Show

Hudson Yards, the opening-any-second-now real-estate development to end all real-estate developments, wasn’t the only patch of New York’s West Side drawing international fanfare and the open purses of folks who can afford to get their kids into college through the back door this past week. The Armory Show modern art fair returned to Pier 94, Champagne Pommery returned to the Armory Show, and Unfiltered returned to the Pommery Champagne Lounge. But there was also an important debut: the inaugural Pommery Prize, selected by a jury led by Champagne Pommery owner and art patron Nathalie Vranken. The winning artist would receive a $20,000 prize and the opportunity to have their work exhibited in Reims, France, at Champagne Pommery, which regularly showcases large-scale works from artists around the world.

Armory Show
Courtesy of Teddy Wolff/The Armory Show
From left: Louise Hayward, Eliza Osborne, Nathalie Vranken, Sandra Hegedus, Ryan Gander (front), Stanislas Thierry, Sally Tallant, Aurelie Vix and Nicole Berry

Not long after the doors to the fair opened to the public March 7, Vranken announced the winner: English artist Ryan Gander and his sculpture, titled Het Spel (My neotonic ovoid contribution to Modernism).

“We are thrilled to sponsor the Armory Show again and to enhance our continued commitment to the art world and carry on the legacy of Madame Pommery,” Vranken said at the show. “We look forward to welcoming Ryan to the domaine to find inspiration and be able to showcase his artwork among the existing collection.” Unfiltered couldn’t help but notice that Gander’s work bears a remarkably similar hue to that of the Pommery label, but the artist assured us it was pure coincidence: “Blue is the color of impossible, immeasurable opportunities,” he said. “Blue is the color of the sky … and [Het Spel] happens to be Pommery blue!”

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