Catholicism and wine cross paths throughout history and literature. Jesus turned water into wine. Some wineries survived Prohibition by producing still-legal sacramental wine. Mass-goers still drink wine as part of the sacred Communion ritual. And now, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, California, is turning grapes grown in their cemeteries into bottles of reds and whites fit for a graveyard picnic.
These cemetery vineyards got their start as a beautification project. In 2006, the diocese was faced with the task of landscaping unused portions of the grounds at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hayward. Grass would’ve cost $50,000 an acre, so they decided to plant grape vines at less than half the cost. The diocese liked the idea so much that they planted vines across three different graveyards, each offering unique growing conditions for particular varietals. Growers planted chardonnay, pinot noir, and primitivo at Holy Sepulchre; cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel at Holy Cross in Antioch; and pinot noir, merlot, and sangiovese at St. Joseph’s in San Pablo.
The diocese initially offered the resulting bottles of wine to parishes within the community and donated them to charities for fundraisers. But in 2013, they began a collaboration with Alameda’s Rock Wall Winery to take their products, labeled Bishop’s Vineyard, to the next level. Today, Bishop’s Vineyard produces around 600 cases annually, offers memberships to an exclusive wine club, and has won medals at local wine competitions and festivals.
Where to Try It
Pleasant Hill Market2397 Pleasant Hill Road, Pleasant Hill, California, 94523, United States
This organic grocery stocks Bishop's Vineyard wines, along with everything else you need for a graveyard picnic.