The following comes from a June 6 story in the New York Times.
For an additional $1,000, a family can have a loved one buried near the chardonnay vines glistening in the sun, or if they prefer, near the pinot noir vines at a cemetery here in an East Bay suburb of San Francisco.
The vines were planted 10 years ago as a less expensive and more water-frugal alternative to grass at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery here.
But this is California, the land of gold and grapes, and the ornamental grapevines are now producing prizewinning wines.
“It was kind of like Jesus’ miracle when he made water into wine,” said Bishop Michael C. Barber of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, which oversees 16 acres of grapes at this cemetery and two others. He became the bishop in 2013, when the wine was called Cathedral of Christ the Light before church officials came up with Bishop’s Vineyard, a snappier label for a larger market.
The grapevines serve another purpose. “The cemetery doesn’t seem like such a sad and fearsome place when you go there and see the vines,” Bishop Barber said.
These are challenging times for cemetery owners, who are struggling to cover their costs, primarily upkeep of the land. The burial habits of Americans have changed, and nearly half are cremated rather than buried. In 2015, there were 1,300 burials at the Hayward cemetery, down from nearly 2,500 in 1980.
“You just drive by cemeteries like they’re a museum,” said Robert Seelig, the chief executive of Catholic Management Services, which oversees the diocese cemeteries. “People are attracted to wine. It draws them into a cemetery and attracts you to a different story line.”
…. At $50,000 an acre for planting grass, Mr. Seelig wondered, “could we plant something else?” He thought about “the body and blood of Christ,” he said. “I wasn’t going into the wine business. I was thinking of the nice foliage.”
An acre of grapevines cost only $17,000 to plant.
…. And so the cemetery wines have become a start-up business. Unlike most, it is a nonprofit, giving most of its products — 7,200 bottles of altar wine — to 45 churches. It has donated $35,000 in scholarships to parochial schools. Like most start-ups, it is not yet turning a profit, but the church is investing in the wine business and expects to break even this year. The annual costs run up to $150,000. Mr. Seelig considers it a good investment.