Ora et Labora – Monk’s who do god’s work for winelovers

“Pray and work!” said the rule for the St Benedict`s monks. And that’s what they do, every day since. We found a great monastery in Hungary, who apply this ethic to the vineyards. A monk and a vineyard is always a great combination – and in this instance the theory was true again.
Put down a monk anywhere on a map, where the climate is more or less suitable for vines, give him about 50 years and you will have a thriving wine culture. If the climate conditions are not exactly right, then you will get a thriving beer culture. Monk’s and booze are a happy combination.

In the heart of Western Transdanubia in Hungary the climatical conditions are more than ideal. The Benedician monks have been around for 1000 years or so. There are only a couple of hills in the middle of the flatland – which is where they’ve built the monastery of Pannonhalma, and where the vineyards are. We were welcomed by father Cirill, he is the head of the monastry`s finance. He was up early to meet us, and told us the story of how they rebuilt the monastery`s finances after the decades of communist rule.

If it comes to monasteries most of us are stuck with the candlelight and the Gregorian chant. Maybe the tonsure, the funny bald patch of the monks come into the picture, and lots of prayer, but nothing else really… But the monasteries were always about a lot more than all that spiritual jazz. But for some funny reason, men locked up without women and having to do a heckload of spiritual and physical work, always turn towards fermentation….

St Benedict who was the founder of what we know nowadays as monastic orders called his monks to “Ora et labra” or “Work and Pray”. He left quite a long rule for the monks, about how to behave, but more importantly, how to run a monastery. Back in those days if you wanted St Peter to be in a good mood when you get to the gates of Heaven, you donated some land to the monastery nearby, and in return the prayed for you. On the donated lands the monks did the most advanced agriculture of the era with cutting edge technologies like a heavy plough.

The Pannonhalma monks have been always great businessmen as well as some of the best scholars, and teachers of Hungary.  After a careful investment they own a high tech winery suitable for about 250 hectares of plantation, yet they do not want to over-stretch their resources. They have only planted about 60 hectares of land around the monastery and that`s what they want to keep cultivating.

As Father Cirill said they are very keen on sustainability. They have their own biomass power plant, they produce herbal teas, bitter liquors, and most importantly, wine. All the profit is used to run the monastery and their high school within. As well as this, they also run a few charities as well, to make sure that no money stays within the walls. That is St Benedict`s Rule in the 21st century…

The vineyards are Olaszrizling – a local varietal, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc Tramini, Pinot Noir, Cab Sav and Merlot. Borough Wines has the monks Riesling, Tramini and their top of the range Prior Riesling on its list. Some more wine is yet to come, as well as some monks which have promised to come to visit and tell us directly about their wines. How very exciting for us!

One Response to “Ora et Labora – Monk’s who do god’s work for winelovers”
  1. Jeff Critchley says:

    Great article! I would love to meet the winemakers when they come to London. Here an article on the role of wine in Sufi and Christian traditions which is illuminating for anyone with an interest in wine.

    Highly recommended

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