Build, Pray, Make Wine

The Monastery

There’s a lot happening in this quiet setting.

Eight miles off I-5 north of Sacramento in tiny Vina, California monks at the Monastery of New Clairveau are building their new church with stones once part of a monastery in Ovila, Spain. The monks also make wine and grow walnuts, prunes and grapes. And if you have a reservation you can stay there.

The history of the Abbey of New Clairveau began in 1955 when monks from the Kentucky Trappist monastery of Gethsemani descended on this tiny town. They established their new spiritual community on 560 acres of land once part of Leland Stanford’s Great Vina Ranch.

Why Now?

This is the season for wine making. Aimee Sunseri is the winemaker. She directs the operation in a 2-acre brick warehouse, a remnant of the Leland Stanford Winery. Leland Stanford wanted to have the largest winery in the world. He could grow grapes, but he could never achieve the quality needed for table wine. By 1890 he made 1,700,000 gallons of wine distilled into brandy sold almost exclusively on the East Coast.

Unlike Stanford, winemaker Aimee Sunseri makes prize-winning table wines. She has been part of the operation since 2000 when she helped plant the first grapes at the Abbey. Aimee is a fifth generation winemaker. She was still at University of California at Davis at the first planting, and in 2003 was graduated with honors from the Viticulture and Enology Department. Each year she develops a blended red table wine by presenting a panel of monks with five possible blends. She takes the one they choose to market.

Release Celebrations

Complimentary food and wine are part of celebrations for release of new wines. They start on Friday evenings from 5:30 to 8:00 PM. Tours follow on Saturday and Sunday.
Friday October 16 is the Release of 2013 New Clairveau Vineyard Saint James Syrah and Aimee 2014 Primitivo, followed by tours and tasting on October 17 and 18.
Friday November 20 is the release of the 2015 New Clairveau Saint James Nouveau Tempranillo followed by tastings and tours on 21 and 22 November.

Want to Sleep at a Monastery?

The buildings in the retreat area of the Abbey cluster like a small village. There are six single rooms and 2 double rooms for 3-day and 4-day retreats. There is no charge at all for the use of the rooms, though they do accept donations. The suggested donation is $60. per person per night including 3 vegetarian meals per day. Food is delivered to the retreat dining room at mealtimes, and the visitors help with cleanup. Call 530-839-2434 for reservations.

For those interested in other places to stay, the monastery is close to Chico, a lively city with good accommodations and restaurants.

Don’t Miss the Church

An emerging church looks like a 13th century building because it really is a 13th century building. Since 1994 the Monastery has been painstakingly reconstructing the Chapter House from the Spanish Abbey of Santa Maria de Ovila.

The church’s California history started in 1930 when agents of William Randolph Hearst bought the abandoned Abbey Santa Maria de Ovila in Spain and had it deconstructed, labeled and shipped to San Francisco. He dreamt of an even more magnificent “Hearst Castle” to be built on 67,000 acres on the McCloud River in northern California. The Great Depression proved difficult even for Hearst and in the 1940s he traded the stones to the City of San Francisco to settle a lien. The Fine Arts Museums stored the stones in their labeled wooden crates in Golden Gate Park behind what was then the Asian Art Museum.

The stones went through a lot in San Francisco. Two fires destroyed many of the wooden crates, damaging stones and obliterating all the labels. In 1989 the Legion of Honor Museum was badly damaged and the city tasked engineers to use stones to reconstruct it. Ultimately architects and engineers found that costs to use the old stones would far exceed using new materials.

Enter the monks of New Clairveau. In 1994 the City Fine Arts Museum granted their petition to use the stones for a new church with two stipulations – that they be accurately restored and that any building using the stones be open to the public.

Don’t Bother
No need to shop for designer jeans or new boots for this visit. Think simple.

Whether you stop in for a wine tasting, to spend the day or more time with the monks, you’ll be rewarded by a warm welcome and a tangible ambient grace.

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On the planet in California

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