The following comes from an October 26 article in the Daily Review.

Even if you’re giving altar wine to churches, it needs to pass the taste test.

That’s what Roman Catholic diocese of Oakland learned when it began offering free sacramental wine to about half its 85 churches three years ago. The fact that the wine was made from grapes grown at diocese cemeteries didn’t get much reaction, but the taste did.

“We produced what we thought was a good wine,” said Robert Seelig, executive director of funeral and cemetery services for the diocese. “We offered two wines: a zinfandel and a chardonnay. Neither are what you consider to be sweet.”

But sweet seemed to be what parishioners preferred. The diocese responded and changed the wine’s makeup. “People were complaining about the taste, so we went to a rosé with a high sugar level,” said Tom Richardson, director of development for the diocese. The rosé sacramental wine is bottled at Brutocao Cellars in Hopland under the Cathedral of Christ the Light label, a reference to the cathedral in Oakland.

The diocese planted vineyards at its Hayward cemetery, Holy Sepulchre, six years ago. Since then, it has added vineyards at Holy Cross Cemetery in Antioch, and then St. Joseph’s Cemetery in San Pablo, for a total of 16 acres. Three years ago, it began turning grapes from those vineyards into altar wine for its churches throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

When the diocese planted its first vineyard at Holy Sepulchure, the purpose was beautification, not vinification. The church had acres of unused land bordering the back of the cemetery that needed sprucing up. “Nobody wants to be buried next to scrub brush,” Seelig said.

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