Calistoga Orthodox Wines was established by St Simeon Orthodox Church and Holy Assumption Monastery. Believing that we should make an offering of our finest harvest in life to God, our ministry is to bring high-quality Orthodox Christian chalice wine, made in Napa Valley, to Orthodox Churches.
Calistoga, a city of just over 5,000 people, is home to both St. Simeon Verkhotursky Orthodox Parish (ROCOR) and Holy Assumption Monastery (OCA). In mid-October 2009, Fr. Joakim Provatakis arrived at St. Simeon Church, which had been several years without a full-time priest. The Monastery, having been without nuns for over 25 years, had been functioning as a parish. Then a week after Fr. Joakim’s coming, a community of nuns arrived. The parish and monastery soon started holding services in common.
The two communities also had in common a need to support themselves. Living in Napa Valley as they were, making a high-quality chalice wine was an obvious choice. Thus, Calistoga Orthodox Wines was born in February 2011.
How Traditional Russian Chalice Wine Came to California
The tradition of wine-making in the Russian Orthodox Church goes back to the time of Emperor Peter the Great, in the early 1700’s. In an effort to modernize Russia, Tsar Peter extensively toured western Europe with the aim of gleaning western technology and culture and exporting it back to Russia in an effort modernize his homeland. During his visit of western Europe, Peter visited the small wine-making region in France called Cahors.
The Russian Emperor fell in love with the wines of Cahors and began sending the grapes and the wine back to Russia. Soon, it was this Cahors wine that became the official wine served at the Imperial Court, and soon after, it became the accepted wine for Liturgical use in the Russian Orthodox Church; today, the Russians still call their Liturgical and dessert wines Kagor (from the French “Cahors”) even though they no longer use Cahors grapes in their production. This varietal is known as Malbec in the New World.
In the 1800’s almost all Malbec in France was destroyed by a malignant virus called Phylloxera. However, cuttings of Malbec grape vines had been transplanted to Argentina before the virus invaded the European vineyards. And later, Malbec grapes were re-introduced to Europe and exported to other wine-growing regions such as California in the early 1900’s.
By the late 1800’s, almost no Malbec was to be found in Europe at all. The quality of wine became so bad in Russia towards the end of the last century, that the Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, made a decree through a local Church Council in 1915, that all efforts must be made to improve the quality of the wine used in the Russian Orthodox Church, and to reinstate the use of the original “Kagor” in the Church’s services.
Calistoga Orthodox Wines was founded in order to bring Russian Orthodox sacramental wine back to the original quality that the Emperor Peter the Great found on his journey to Cahors over three centuries ago, using the highest quality California fruit; we believe we have achieved the artistic blending of Old World Tradition to the New World.
The general guidelines of the Orthodox Church, as determined by the Ecumenical Councils, state that the wine must be “sweet, pleasing to the taste, red like the color of blood with no additives and not fortified”. Furthermore, the fruit must have the proper blessings read over them at harvest, and at crush as an offering to the Lord as specified by the Priest’s Service Book (Book of Needs). The entire production process of our wine is overseen and has the blessing of Orthodox clergy so that those who use our wine in the Divine Liturgy can be confident they are using wine of the highest quality made to the specifications of the Ecumenical Councils.
In addition to being a canonical chalice wine of the highest quality, our Kagor wine also makes a splendid dessert wine and pairs exquisitely with dark chocolate, winter spice cake or Bleu Cheese.