Churches Take Grapes from Vine to Chalice

By De Santis, Solange | Anglican Journal, February 2007 | Go to article overview

Churches Take Grapes from Vine to Chalice


De Santis, Solange, Anglican Journal


'The bread shall be the best and purest wheat bread, whether leavened or unleavened, and the wine pure grape wine with which a little water may be mingled.'

Book of Common Prayer

WHEN YOU BUY A bottle of wine for the table, you probably care about its origin. You might want California chardonnay, Australian shiraz or riesling from Ontario or British Columbia. But when you kneel at the altar rail and sip communion wine, do you know where it comes from?

From Newfoundland to British Columbia, every province in Canada produces wine but do Canada's 2,800 Anglican churches buy their wine locally? An informal survey by the Anglican Journal reveals a wide variety of practice.

Traditionally, altar wine has been a fortified wine (such as port), on the sweet side and higher in alcohol (18-20 per cent) than table wine (about 12 per cent). If the rubrics, or instructions, in the Book of Common Prayer concerning communion are followed, then the fruit wines of Manitoba or Newfoundland need not apply: "The bread shall be the best and purest wheat bread, whether leavened or unleavened, and the wine pure grape wine with which a little water may be mingled."

However, wine from grapes is produced in at least six provinces: British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Among Canadian wines, the wines of Ontario and British Columbia are the most well-known, both at home and abroad.

Oenophile Bishop Ralph Spence, of the Hamilton, Ont.-based diocese of Niagara, has made support of the Niagara peninsula's wineries a hallmark of his tenure. He has purchased and solicited donations of Niagara wine for dinners and events and has had labels printed that read "by appointment to the bishop of Niagara" to be applied to bottles from certain wineries.

"We've really worked hard to support it because it is an important industry in the area. A lot of our wineries have been generous to us," said Bishop Spence in an interview.

However, the diocese's cathedral, Christ's Church Cathedral in Hamilton, buys a California port called Mont La Salle, admitted Dean Peter Wall, citing "ease of supply" as the reason why. Church supply houses such as the Anglican Book Centre in Toronto or Hamilton's DiCarlo Religious Supply Centre are allowed by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario to carry altar wine. The Anglican Book Centre carries California's Cribari altar wine. All other beverage alcohol in the province is sold through the board's stores or winery stores.

"(The church retailers) sell supplies and they deliver, so you can say 'You're coming next week with candles and we need a case of wine.' You don't have to go out to buy it (on a separate trip)," said Dean Wall, adding, "I could go and buy a port from a local winery and probably should."

Altar wine makers usually say their product is "approved" or "prepared in accordance with canon law," which refers to the Roman Catholic church's rule-similar to that of the Anglican church--that the wine must be made "from grapes of the vine." Otherwise, there is no other procedure that distinguishes sacramental wine from a dry chardonnay off the shelf.

Many clergy and altar guild members believe that communion wine needs to have high alcohol content in order to control infection when using a common cup at the altar rail. However, microbiology professor Tony Mazzulli at the University of Toronto said the difference is negligible. …

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