Sacramental wine makers are our nation’s oldest wine makers because they were not put out of business by the lunacy of Prohibition. By the 21st century, however, there are only three makers of consequence.
• Mont La Salle Altar Wine Company in Napa (Mont La Salle Altar Wines. Originally part of Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious community, Mont La Salle became a not-for-profit company after the brothers decided to get out of alcohol business in late 1980s.
• Cribari Quality Reserve Altar Wines, Fresno, CA (Cribari Premium Altar Wines). Cribari’s roots trace to 19th century, their altar wine production to 1917. Cribari produced consumer wines until 1991 when it sold its consumer division to Constellation Brands, world’s largest wine company. The Cribaris kept sacramental division for the family, and fifth generation Cribaris operate the winery today. Mont La Salle and Cribari account for 90 percent of U.S. sacramental sales.
• O-Neh-Da Vineyard, founded in 1872 in New York State by Catholic Bishop Bernard McQuaid, is oldest wine producer still in its original location (O•New•Da Vineyard). O-Neh-Da does not sell west of the Mississippi; principle market is New York and Pennsylvania.
All three companies make a variety of wines, from dark red to pale gold. Typical alcohol content either is 18 percent or 12 percent, but there is a minimum alcohol (0.5 percent) wine (Mustum). High alcohol Angelica is best seller. Not only does Angelica taste good, the alcohol works as preservative, a consideration since many churches purchase only once or twice a year. High alcohol also serves as a disinfectant, important since Catholic Eucharist is from common cup.
Because of taxes, laws, and other rules, the general consumer cannot buy sacramental wines. More on that next week.
Tasting notes on some sacramental wines used in San Angelo area:
• Mont La Salle Angelica. Pale gold, fruity, rich bouquet; 18 percent alcohol. Cathedral Church of the Sacred Heart, Holy Angels, St. Mary Star of the Sea (Ballinger).
• Cribari Light Red. Dark pink, lightly sweet; 12 percent alcohol. St. Joseph’s (San Angelo).