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In the culture shaped by Christianity, vines, vineyards and wine occupy a very central place. They are quoted around 500 times in the Bible in very different meanings and contexts. Anyone interested in wine culture cannot avoid Christian symbolism and tradition. This is particularly evident when tradition, custom and piety are combined at Christian festivals such as Easter.

Famous relief of "Christ in the winepress"% in the small cross church of Ediger-Eller

Years ago I climbed up the Moselle, in Ediger-Eller, to the Kreuzkirche, high above the vineyards, where one of the strangest Christian symbolic images, Christ in the Winepress, can be found. The union of Christ's blood and wine has scarcely ever been so drastically and directly depicted in art. It is no coincidence that this stone relief was created in one of the most important wine regions of Germany. In a completely different wine region, in the Franconian Volkach, we - three wine friends - went on a Sunday morning with the faithful on the old Way of the Cross up to "Maria im Weingarten", a late Gothic pilgrimage church in the middle of the vineyards. On the first Sunday in June, a wine village in the south of France celebrates the feast of its patron saint "Grand St.Jean" in its small medieval village church. I reported in the Forum years ago, "When Joan of Arc, carved in stone, greets those entering, the little church is packed to bursting, and the priest interrupts his sermon because a belated delegation of vintners in colorful costumes enters the church with flags raised, then you are at the festival of the vintners in Faugères."

"Maria im Weingarten" in Volkach% a late Gothic pilgrimage church in the middle of the vineyards

These are unforgettable experiences - impressions of a cultural heritage - that show how much Christian symbolism can accompany and shape the wine year. Christianity moved northward with the Romans, and with them a new kind and a new meaning of wine culture. Perhaps today we wine lovers are no longer aware of the great part Christianity has played in the popularity of wine. In the central ritual of Christians, the Lord's Supper, bread and wine embody union with Chrisus and have thus remained ubiquitous and alive throughout the Christian world over the centuries to the present day - as symbol or sacred act, as the case may be. I readily admit that when it comes to wine, not only quality, grape varieties, winemakers, vinification, terroir, etc. are important to me, but also the culture in which the wines are embedded. Garage wines, no matter how overwhelming their taste, are therefore repugnant to me. I also have a hard time with the high-tech equipment of modern "wine factories", although the result is far superior to many a traditionally made wine. For me, the "natural product" wine also includes the culture, the tradition and above all the people in its environment. When I know a winemaker, when I can sense how he thinks, how he feels, what his values, his roots are, his wines take on another, new dimension; wine thus becomes a cultural heritage that I can admire just as much as a Gothic cathedral, an Ottonian chapel or a mysterious menhir.

Good Friday liturgy in the church of Saint-Sever in Agde

Wine is therefore also part of culture, not least Christian culture: "At his last meal with his disciples, Jesus shared bread and wine. Wine becomes a symbol of communion, healing, joy, and of the coming Kingdom of God." This is a notion that, despite a long Christian tradition, no longer touches us or is relegated to the realm of "private matters" in our secularized world. Nevertheless, the stories, legends and beliefs of the Christian doctrine of salvation are probably much more important to the development and meaning of wine than we realize. I became aware of all this again during a Christian folkloric tradition on Good Friday in the old town of Agde, a small town in southern France that is proud of its Greek origins. Agde has also long since ceased to be a wine community; in fact, in front of the somewhat dilapidated medieval town structures is a huge "new town" - as close as possible to the beach - where more than 200,000 people live in the summer and enjoy the sea and sun for a few weeks.

Wrapped in incense, the winegrowers are the first to carry the heavy cross

So Agde lives from tourism, like many a place on the Mediterranean. Out of season, however - this is hardly noticed by the sun-hungry tourists - the roots in the life of southern French communities, villages and towns are always visible, tangible. For example on Good Friday. Since the 15th century (with a few interruptions), an 80-kilo cross with a wonderful statue of Christ from that time has been carried through the narrow streets of Agde, alternately by winegrowers, boatmen and fishermen. What on the surface appears to be more of a folkloric event - organized by the tourist office - is on closer inspection a cultural commitment to what shapes the region: When the sturdiest winegrowers, recognizable by their dark green jackets with the inscription "Cave Cooperative", take the heavy cross on their shoulders, accompanied by their wives in winegrowers' costumes, the fishermen in their blue-striped bodices and the "jouteurs" (traditional fighting game on the water) dressed all in white, something of what has accompanied the people here for centuries and enabled them to exist becomes visible: Wine, fish and water.

Cooperative winery in Agde - built in 1936

For the first time I am aware that in this village, which has long been dominated by tourism (together with the neighbouring municipality), 450 winegrowers still cultivate vineyards and have their harvest vinified in the "Cave Henri de Richemer", that there are still 1,500 hectares of vines here and that 300,000 bottles are bottled annually. Until today, I haven't noticed this; for more than thirty years, I have often driven past the cooperative winery in the summer, but I have only noticed that the exterior of the winery is becoming more and more unsightly and decaying. But I had no idea that a modern vinification facility and modern sales rooms had been built inside and behind it. I have never bought an Agder wine, never drunk one.

Terret - one of the oldest grape varieties in the south of France

I also orientated myself on the better-known names, on the famous wine-growing areas (AOC appellations) of the south.But when the winegrowers - accompanied by a good 200 Agde citizens (strangers are hardly ever around at this time, at most as astonished spectators) - took the heavy cross upon themselves, I was reminded of the repressed, almost forgotten mythology:. in Agde, the Greek city (as the tourist advertising proclaims) not only Christ's death is commemorated that night, unspoken the classical myth becomes present, in which wine through Dionysus grasps man as an intoxicating, divine power.

On the same day - I gather from the newspaper - a special wine is also introduced, now newly launched by the cooperative. "Terret", made from one of the oldest grapes, once cultivated by the Greeks and Romans and brought to France, surviving only here, in the South. As a modern cuvée, it represents what a centuries-old tradition has left behind in the Languedoc. Coincidence, deliberate marketing or an important cultural heritage? In any case, it is something that still has a place in an environment dominated by tourism, where wine is mainly bought in supermarkets. The Christ carried by the winegrowers and "Terret", the first wine of the Greeks, they are definitely related. You just have to recognize the relationship.

Yours sincerely

Peter (Züllig)

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