The Abbey of Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux

Working to bring the wines of the flourishing community of monks
at Le Barroux to a wider audience in the UK, Monastic Order is
proud to present Via Caritatis as standing among the best monastery
wines in the world, and a fitting successor to over 1600 years of
monastic viticulture. Alongside the local community, the hard work
that the monks have poured into the development of sustainable and
environmentally gentle winemaking will see their example stand
out in the years to come, as we seek to reverse the damage done to
our planet.

The history

The Rhône Valley region holds a place of unique importance in both
the development of viticulture in France and the history of the
Western Church. As far back as 600 B.C., Greek influence - and with it
winegrowing - had entered Gaul with the founding of the pre-Roman
city of Massalia by Phoenician traders, who planted vineyards in an
area that allowed wine to be be easily transported north along the
Rhône River.

Later, Roman occupation in towns such as Avignon and Vienne further
established the regional vine growing, and the Rhône Valley became
the winemaking site of choice to provide drink for the stationed
Roman legions. To this day, the landscape of the region exhibits walls
built by Roman legionaries, upholding terraces on which they grew
their beloved vines.

 
 

Early Christian communities spreading through the Roman Empire
settled in this region of France by the second century A.D.. By the fifth
century, significant monastic communities were established, with
major figures such as John Cassian leaving an influential legacy in the
Western Church.

Just off the French coast in the Mediterranean, a small island would
host a monastery founded by Honoratus who, like John Cassian, had
travelled widely in Egypt. Using what he learned in the homeland of
Christian monasticism, the Monastery of Lerinum (Lérins) would go
on to train many of the clergy in southern Gaul, and in the following
centuries found a series of monasteries across the Rhône Valley.

As the Roman Empire fell away, the region became the focus of
conflict between Clovis the First, King of the Franks, and Theodoric
the Great - King of the Ostrogoths. Down the centuries instability
continued with even the Saracens temporarily seizing power. During
this time monastic communities originally formed to separate
themselves from society, found themselves tasked with the
responsibility to spread education, take part in land development and
provide relief for the poor, alongside their original vocations of
intercessory prayer and missionary work.

 
 

The monasteries of the region found themselves increasingly involved
in viticulture both for the needs of the Church - in which wine held a
central and sacred function in worship - and for their own upkeep
situated in the land of enthusiastic wine drinkers. They hold an
enormous advantage over lay wine production in that they did not
experience the generational instability which could see landholdings
divided between sons, leading to inconsistent agricultural practices and
loss of knowledge. To the contrary as centres of learning, they soon
turned their hand to developing new varieties ideal for the terrior of
the Rhône Valley.

The peace and security that were established with the coming of the
Carolingian Empire saw a renewed intensity in winegrowing as the
monks found themselves in a culture obsessed with wine. As the
Catholic Church became a deeper part of cultural life, the rich biblical
themes and beautiful liturgical rituals surrounding wine ingrained
itself in the social imagination of the local populations. This influenced
the culture for centuries to come right down to our own age, giving
shape to a life where drinking wine virtuously was an integral part of a
community's diet, particularly at times of sociability and celebration.
Drunkenness was viewed negatively by both the Church and wider
society, allowing wine to maintain a dignified position societally.

 
 

The turbulent 14th century saw the Holy See moved to Avignon by
Clement V. This same Pope oversaw the beginning of a massive
expansion of winegrowing throughout the Rhône Valley region in
order to cater for the newly arrived papal court. The same Clement V
would plant the vineyards at Châteauneuf-du-Pape and those now
cultivated for Via Caritatis, laying down a heritage which would
become world-renowned. The Avignon papacy would last some 70
years, after which the area would be governed as a papal territory.

After the utter devastation the monasteries of France experienced
during and after the period of the French Revolution, the second half
of the 20th century saw a significant revival in traditional monastic life
led by the Solesmes congregation. In this turbulent atmosphere, in
1970, a new community of Benedictines pursuing the tradition of
prayer, silence, manual work and the Divine Office was established by
Dom Gerard. The rapidly growing community would soon outgrow
their modest chapel, acquiring a property not far from Mont Ventoux
where plans were laid to erect a beautiful monastic house and chapel
according to the layout of the great mediaeval houses. Here, they once
again are able to cultivate the great vineyards of Clement V that were
stolen during the French Revolution, and pursue the highest excellence
in travelling the Via Caritatis, a more perfect way of charity.

 
 

The wine

Thinking in centuries, monastic institutions seek long-term solutions
to the challenges they face. This is no more true than in their
agricultural practices. The hilly limescale terroir of the Mont Ventoux
Appalachian requires alternatives to standard industrial practices,
meaning, among other things, that the grapes must be handpicked.
Prioritising sustainability and ecological care, the monks of Le Barroux
grow and maintain their vineyards as a kind of observatory, where best
practices for their particular environment are developed and shared
with the local communities of winegrowers, with whom they work
cooperatively. In this, they are inspired by the spirituality of Saint
Francis and his love of creation. Partnering with the renowned Rhône
oenologist Philippe Cambie, the monks of the abbey pursue the highest
standards for the wines of Via Caritatis.

Shop for Via Caritatis
Featured products from The Abbey of Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux
Via Caritatis
Vox Angelorum
Ventoux Rosé 2020
£25.00 per bottle
The wine of the nobility, this rosé bares aromas of wild strawberry, white blossom and a refreshing lift of acidity.
Buy Vox Angelorum
Via Caritatis
Lux Amoris
Ventoux Rouge 2017
£37.00 per bottle
A deep red wine, nose of fresh red and black fruits, sweet spice, a touch of licorice from the oak. Silky palate, opulent tannins and bright acidity.
Buy Lux Amoris

Further reading

French Wine, A History – Rod Phillips

Land and Wine – Charles Frankel

Monasteries and Monastic Orders – Khristina Krüger

Monks and Wine – Desmond Seward