The Spirituality of Wine: An Interview With Gisela Kreglinger

My library is filled with good theology books; and it’s sprinkled with a few wonderful books on wine. But finally the book I’ve been looking for has been written by Dr. Gisela Kreglinger. Her world and expertise spans both of my interests: she was raised on a family vineyard in Germany and finished her Ph. D. in historical theology from the University of St. Andrews.

Gisela2Many people know that Jesus turned water into wine. That was his first “sign” in the Gospel of John. (I sometimes say that Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine; the church of my heritage performed a second miracle by “turning” his wine into grape juice. Wonderful teetotalers, for the most part — but seriously wrong in their understand of “wine” in the Bible.)

But they may not realize that the Bible is full of images of vineyards, vintners, and wine. The very eschatological hope—when “God will wipe away all tears from their eyes”—is anchored in the hope for a feast where aged wine is served (Isaiah 25)!

I’m thankful that Dr. Kreglinger has allowed me to interview her. (Check out her book here.)

MC: As a lifelong pastor and New Testament professor, I love how you’re trying to break down barriers: sacred/spiritual . . . creation/salvation . . . spiritual/physical. In what sense do you consider the world of wine and winemaking a spiritual adventure?

GK: In Protestant circles there is some times the tendency to narrow the spiritual to that of the soul and the salvation of our souls rather envision God’s redemption in terms of all creation. If God created the world, then the fields, the soil, the vine, etc., are all parts of God’s creation and his gift to us. As such they are spiritual realities as they are created by God and given to us. We forget that sometimes but the vintners who work with the land day in and day out often understand that there is a spiritual dimension to what they are doing. The soil is alive and so are the vines and the whole process of crafting wine, the fermentation process and the aging of the wine in the bottle is absolutely mysterious … something that we cannot control or if we do control it we end up killing a lot of life and the end product is not as vibrant. Vintners understand this mysterious and spiritual dynamic better than anyone else and as such they can teach us about the spiritual dimension of wine and crafting wine. That is why I interviewed 30 people from around the world and gave them a voice in my book. They really do help us to glimpse the hand of God in creation, not just when the world was first created, by his on-going presence in sustaining creation and allowing us to partake in his work.


MC: I’ve seen it many, many times—just what you said: wine “transforms the meal into a celebration.” (By the way, the discussion of “Babette’s Feast” was worth the price of the book!) In an age of fast food and lightning-fast technology, how could wine bring us back to hospitality and community?

GK: This is the big challenge of the day. I suggest to begin small with your home and your family and your friends. Eugene Peterson, who has been my spiritual director for over 20 years, advised me when I first started teaching in a graduate school that I should never let go of our calling to hospitality and have students over even if it was just that one extra thing that I could barely cope with. He encouraged me to allow the students to help make it happen and that is just what I did. I took that to heart and I have never stopped having people over for a glass of wine and a good meal. Connecting with other movements such as the Slow Food movement is also a good place to begin. They emphasize growing things, being local, knowing the local farmers and meals around the table is a natural part of what they do.


MC: You wrote: “From Genesis to the book of Revelation, the theme of wine features rather prominently in scripture.” My guess is that many believers have missed that. What are some are the larger themes of scripture that wine/vineyard/vintner are tied to?

GK: The most important theme related to wine is that vineyards and wine are a gift from God that is to bring us joy and is a physical and literal expression of his desire to bless his people. Vineyards and wine remind us daily that God is benevolent towards his people and wants to bless them and be generous to them and he wants us to be joyful. But this also means that He wants us to share this blessing with others, especially the poor and needy and the marginalized in our midst. When we forget this and deprive those of help that need it most God also withholds his blessing from us. This is why the Israelites had to go into Exile. They had forgotten that they, too, were called to be a blessing and give freely from what God gave to them. In the narrative of the Exodus and return from exile, vineyards and wine become themes in the redemptive story of Scripture. God promises to deliver his people out of exile and this means returning to the land and being able to cultivate the land and harvest its fruit, including grapes and craft wine. Being able to craft wine in peace becomes a sign of God’s redemption. Just like God delivered his people out of Egypt and promised to lead them into a land rich is agriculture and grapes and wine so did God promise his people that he would lead them out of exile and allow them once more to live in peace and cultivate the land and enjoy all that it offers. Wine became a literal and symbolic expression of God’s redemptive purposes, the symbolic hinting at the eschatological hope that God would act and heal and restore.


MC: I’ve been impressed with the spiritual concerns of so many winemakers we’ve been privileged to get to know. But you’re encouraging them to find the deepest spiritual meaning not just in the soil itself (though included in the terroir!) but in the Creator of the soil and the vine. Any suggestions for how they might do that?

GK: The best way to do this I think is ask them questions. I’ve found that most vintners understand that it is not just the soil or the fermentation process but that there is a greater mystical and spiritual reality that they encounter. Explore it with them and ask them how they understand this greater spiritual vision. I’ve found that we can learn so much from their experience and encounter with that greater reality that perhaps they too think more about the Creator as you ask those questions. Listening to them is probably the best way to further their own understanding of our good Creator. I’ve noticed that the vintners I interviewed years ago have done some thinking since the interviews and perhaps grown in their understanding of our Creator. . . . Asking them good questions gets their vintner souls going and fermenting — 🙂  — and the Holy Spirit never ceases to work in them either.




La Rinconada Vineyard

Tonight we’re enjoying a beautiful wine from Lutum: a balanced pinot noir that Gavin Chanin sourced from La Rinconada vineyard on the southern corridor of Sta. Rita Hills. Rinc5 The vineyard sits between Sanford & Benedict and La Encantada vineyards on the south side of Santa Rosa Road, eight miles east of Lompoc.

This stunning vineyard, planted in 1995 by Richard Sanford, is on a 436-acre ranch with 130 acres under vine, including 60 acres of pinot noir and 70 acres of chardonnay. The thick Pacific fog that rolls through between the Santa Rita Hills and the Santa Rosa Hills makes for ideal conditions for these two varietals.Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 11.09.47 AM

We asked Richard Sanford a couple questions about La Rinconada (meaning “the corner” in Spanish).

Can you tell us about how you obtained the land?

“The vineyard was planted in 1995. I negotiated a lease/option on the ranch from the elderly sisters of the original owner. The 436 acre Rancho Rinconada was a 1913 subdivision of the original 1839 Rancho Santa Rosa Land Grant.”

How would you describe the soil?

“Approximately 40 acres of vineyard are on the same soils as the adjoining Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. The deep soils are a clay loam well intermixed with shards of Chert, a hard angular stone which promotes good drainage. These soils are from a decomposition of the Monterey Shale, a Miocene seabed deposit. 60 acres of vineyard are on a Pleistocene riverbed deposit from the Santa Ynez River. This sandy, gravelly, silty loam is excellent for Chardonnay and is limited by a shallow water table of an ancient lake bottom.”

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From La Rinconada, the views to the north are stunning hills and beautiful vineyards like Fiddlestix, Sea Smoke, Wenzlau, Mt. Carmel, and Rita’s Crown.

Among the fine wines sourced from the vineyard are Lutum, Chanin, Tyler, Sanford, Ken Brown, and Testarossa.

(For a photo tour of Santa Rosa road, check the three installments on this blog, beginning here.)

A view of La Rinconada from the southern slope of the Sta. Rita Hills
A view of La Rinconada from the southern slope of the Sta. Rita Hills
Another shot from Rita's Crown
Another shot from Rita’s Crown

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A toast with Richard Sanford, who planted La Rinconada in 1995
A toast with Richard Sanford, who planted La Rinconada in 1995
Chanin and Lutum wines sources from La Rinconada
Chanin and Lutum wines sources from La Rinconada

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An Interview With James Sparks of Liquid Farm

There are more expensive chardonnays than Liquid Farm. But it would be hard to find better chardonnay coming from California!James #5

Owned by Jeff and Nikki Nelson, LF has received top scores for its Sta. Rita Hills blends, “Four,” “Golden Slope” and “White Hill”  — and more recently for the chards sourced from famous Santa Maria vineyards, “Bien Bien” and “La Hermana.” In addition, their rose—AKA “pink crack”—has become a passion of wine fanatics.

Just this spring, the first Liquid Farm pinot noir, sourced from the SRH Radian Vineyard, has come out.

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We had a chance to interview their personable, skilled winemaker, James Sparks, about his philosophy.

Tell us about your winemaking style. What are you looking for with the chardonnays you’ve made? What are you trying to achieve?

James: I think my winemaking style is all about observation—from the vineyards to the winery. My goal is always to let the vineyards shine through. I do my best to watch the vineyards and the fruit from start to finish. Listening to what it wants to say and then pick when I believe the fruit to be at its best. Then in the winery allowing each vineyard to express itself in each individual barrel. Observing each barrel and allowing it to develop in its own time and space. Which then brings us to the wines I’m creating. Burgundy is the inspiration. So the goal is to make beautifully expressed wines with inspiration to Chablis and and Meursault, but keeping it rooted in California. So each year fine tuning, making the absolute best possible, most expressed wines, with balance and complexity, age-worthy wines that I can from that year.

James #1
You’ve just come out with your first pinot at LF. How did you try to achieve the balance you wound up with?
James: For me it was again all about flavors. Starting with a great vineyard allows me to keep it simple in the winery. Each year is different, but with the 2014 Radian I was able to keep it very simple. The goal is to do as little as possible to the wine and the 2014 Radian allowed me to do just that. I think it’s a great start to a wonderful move in making pinot. As with the chardonnay, the pinot will continue to improve as I observe the vineyards that I’m pulling the fruit from. By observing each vineyard it allows me to understand how each vineyard will want to express its character in the wine. Observation is the key for me in making the picking decisions and understanding what each wine will do. Looking for more structure in each wine goes back to understanding how each vineyard wants to express itself and how it’s responding to the growing year.
James #2
I’ve noticed that your rose sells out pretty quickly. What is unique about your rose wine?
James: Mourvedre being the main grape and Vogelzang Vineyard. It’s also made specifically for rose. Vogelzang Vineyard is in Happy Canyon, the warmest part of the valley, which seems to share a similar likeness to Bandol: sun-soaked with an ocean breeze. You add that we are in California and you have the rose. The earthy, fruity, mineral driven mourvedre that makes a beautiful drinking rose.

Tell us about your job. What are your favorite and least favorite parts of making wine?

James: Winemaking is cleaning and then more cleaning. It stresses me out when things are dirty and unorganized. So the job works well for my personality. I think one of the most challenging aspects of making wine is the space issue. It seems that you can never have enough. Right now Liquid Farm is in too small of a space for the amount of wine being made. Logistically it makes it very challenging. I’m dreaming of the day that we have space that is closer to 4000 to 6000 sq. ft. One day at a time.

You’ve had an interest in baking, too. How do the skill sets overlap for baking and winemaking?

James: Baking and winemaking both take time. Obviously winemaking is a little longer process. Still both things require time and observation. Watch and don’t rush. At the same time don’t take too long. Alway use the best ingredients possible. Better sourced flour, better bread. Better sourced fruit, the better the wine. Theres a fine balance between under-proofing and over-proofing—just as there’s a fine balance between aging wine too long in barrel and not long enough. From a warm ferment to a cold ferment, using native yeast to commercial yeast, both will change the outcome of the bread and wine. Both go great together when consuming!

James #4
Your wines have already achieved some of the highest honors and scores. What’s the next goal?

James: My goal is to always make the best wines possible each year. So I will continue to do that and hope that they continue to please those that drink the wines. I’m very grateful that the wines are being well received and getting a lot of recognition in a very positive way. I will continue to do my best in capturing that year and still staying true to the style of the wines.

Western Gate Wines from SRH

Recently we invited some wine-loving friends to join us in tasting the new Western Gate wines from John Faulkner, the young assistant winemaker for Stolpman wines.aa

In short, these are beautiful Sta. Rita Hills wines!

Named for Point Conception—which the Chumash Indians believed was the “western gate” through which souls must pass to enter the afterlife—they are excellent examples of the fruit coming from both the northern and southern valleys of SRH (between the La Purisma hills and Santa Rita Hills, and between the Santa Rita Hills and the Santa Rosa Hills, respectively).

Fruit for the Western Gate 2013 chardonnay comes from the sandy soil of the Zotovich vineyard on the 246 corridor. We noticed that this straw-colored, chablis-like wine has good acidity, balanced minerality, and tastes of lemongrass, pineapple, and strawberry. We loved drinking it alone and then later with fish. Our score: 91

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 11.06.09 AMThe Western Gate 2013 pinot noir comes from one of the oldest vineyards in the region, Sanford & Benedict, planted in 1971. It’s already a remarkable wine, with hints of cherry and strawberry. There are distinct tannins on the front end, though nothing overwhelming. We thought it finished soft and lingered. Our score: 92

Some of the best wines coming out of California are coming from the highway 246 and Santa Ynez River chutes of the Sta. Rita Hills. These excellent wines are no exception.

They are available through the Stolpman Vineyards website.


Cargasacchi Vineyard Tasting

Again this year, we are celebrating the holidays with a wine dinner for some of our close West Texas friends. And the wines will feature (of course!) another of our favorite Sta. Rita Hills vineyards, Cargasacchi.carg

You can catch a glimpse of the vineyard from Santa Rosa Road; but the best bet is to take Sweeney Road, just east of Lompoc, as far as you’re permitted to go. You can see with all the limestone and diatomaceous rock why a leading characteristic of this wonderful vineyard is its minerality.

For a taste of the Cargasacchi/Point Conception Wines, visit their tasting room—carg7which they share with Loring Wine Company—right on hwy 246 in Buellton. It’s one of the most fun tasting rooms in Santa Barbara Country.


Tonight we’re going to drink four pinots from the 2011 vintage:

Peter Cargasacchi’s own pinot noir (from the winemaker’s notes: “The saturated purple hue is opaque with distinctive pinot noir perfume of red and purple berries and violets. In the mouth this is a luscious, richly textured wine that balances fruit, hints of soy, spice and tannin. Exhibiting layers of blackberry and small dark fruit flavors woven with firm, ripe, tannins for a fruit driven, persistent, mouthwatering finish.”)

Loring Wine Company (given a 94 score by Pinot Report)


Brewer-Clifton (check out this insightful video clip from Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton)


I thought I’d held onto a 2012 Siduri “Cargasacchi,” but it’s nowhere to be found. If a fifth bottle is needed, we’ll move to a 2012 Loring “Cargasacchi.” It’s being paired with my buddy Tod’s bolognese and pasta.

Peter Cargassachi speaking at the old Sanford Barn
Peter Cargassachi speaking at the old Sanford Barn
Peter Cargasacchi
Peter Cargasacchi

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Santa Rosa Road – part 3

(For part two in this series, visit here.)


As you continue driving ocean-ward on the Santa Rosa Road, soak in the effects of the tectonic plate movements from millions of years ago that left these IMG_4987transverse (west-to-east) mountain ranges. It’s this unique formation that leaves the two valleys—one between La Purisma hills and Santa Rita Hills; and the other between Santa Rita Hills and Santa Rosa hills—cooled by coastal fog and wind, conditions ideal for pinot noir and chardonnay.

From the second section of La Encantada, we continue west to D’alfonso-Curren and Arcadian wineries (at 11.13).


Quickly up are Rancho La Vina (at 11.20, 4435 Santa Rosa Road) and the 3700-acre Rancho Salsipuedes—meaning “get out if you can!”—with almost 200 acres devoted to its Radian, Bentrock, and Puerta del Mar vineyards (the latter being outside the SRH AVA).

More stunning views lie ahead, especially around 14.30 where the valley spreads wide between the limestone cliffs to the north and the Santa Rosa hills.



Finally, at 16.41 from the starting point (see the first post in this series for the beginning mark), Santa Rosa Road meets highway 1.

What an amazing stretch: world-class vineyards, rich agriculture in the diatomaceous earth, looming hills to north and south, and—if you keep your eyes open!—plenty of wildlife. (On a recent morning, I spotted a deer, two small bobcats, and a coyote.)

If you can’t get there, then keep an eye out for the vineyards with some of your favorite wines. Watch for Rita’s Crown, Wenzlau, Sanford & Benedict, La Rinconada, La Encantada, Fiddlestix, Mount Carmel, Sea Smoke, etc.


Richard Sanford, who in 1971 planted the first pinot noir vines in Santa Barbara County.
Richard Sanford, who in 1971 planted the first pinot noir vines in Santa Barbara County.


Note: Future posts will focus on Mail Road and Sweeney Road.

Santa Rosa Road – part 2

(For part one, visit the previous post.)

After a brief glimpse of the beautiful vineyards ahead (at 6.60) and after passing Santa Rosa Park (7.60), the most impressive views on Santa Rosa Road occur starting around 7.95. Off to the north are the vineyards of Sea Smoke, Mount Carmel, Rita’s Crown, and Wenzlau. You can pull off the road at 8.26 (at 512′ elevation), and walk just a couple hundred feet for a stunning view.


At 8.72, you are flanked by renowned Sanford & Benedict and then La Rinconada vineyards (south) and Fiddlestix vineyard (north). Be sure to notice the old Sanford barn up above S&B (at 8.78). And watch for the 7.28 road sign just to your right—marking the distance from hwy 1 to the west. 

The Sanford & Benedict barn (from the early 1970's)
The Sanford & Benedict barn (from the early 1970’s)

S&B Vineyard

Looking over Sanford & Benedict, Fiddlestix, and Sea Smoke vineyards
Looking over Sanford & Benedict, Fiddlestix, and Sea Smoke vineyards
Mileage Marker 7.28, commemorated by Fiddlehead's 728 pinot
Mileage Marker 7.28, commemorated by Fiddlehead’s 728 pinot
A glimpse of the never-completed monastery (subject of future post)
A glimpse of the never-completed monastery (subject of future post)
Sea Smoke Vineyard have 170 planted acres on the southern slope of the SR Hills
Sea Smoke Vineyard has 170 planted acres on the southern slope of the SR Hills
A glimpse of Fe Ciega ("blind faith"), planted by Richard Longoria in 1978.
A glimpse of Fe Ciega (“blind faith”), planted by Richard Longoria in 1978.

Continuing west, the Sanford tasting room is located at 5010 Santa Rosa Road (9.57).

Sanford Tasting Room


Shortly after this (at 9.75 and then at 10.90), you’ll see signs for La Encantada vineyard, planted by the Sanfords in 1995. It produces grapes sourced by Lutum, Chanin, Ken Brown, Foxen, Deovlet, Testarossa, and several others.

The two plots of La Encantada have 100 acres—almost all pinot noir
The two plots of La Encantada have 100 acres—almost all pinot noir

Between the two sections of La Encantada vineyard, watch (around 10.62) for friendly faces on the south and views of the Sweeney Road cliffs to the north!

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(Part three of this series will follow in the next post.)