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These Vintner Monks Turn Wilderness Into The Divine Gift Of Wine

Ancient Spanish Monastery in Northern California? How Did That Happen?
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The St. James vineyard at the Abbey of New Clairvaux. The 20 brothers of the abbey belong to an order with a tradition of winemaking that dates back nearly 900 years. Lisa Morehouse for NPRhide caption

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The St. James vineyard at the Abbey of New Clairvaux. The 20 brothers of the abbey belong to an order with a tradition of winemaking that dates back nearly 900 years.

In a tiny Northern California town called Vina, there’s a winery that’s definitely off the beaten track. That might be because this region’s better known for olive groves and cattle ranches than grapes. For these, vintners, though, it’s spiritual work.

When I visit New Clairvaux winery, two people are filtering wine, getting it ready for bottling. On the surface, they make an odd pair. One is Aimee Sunseri, the winemaker heading up operations here. The other is Brother Christopher Cheney, a monk. He grew up in California’s wine country, but never thought he’d make the stuff, until a religious conversion led him to the Abbey of New Clairvaux in 2004, just a few years after the brothers planted grapes.

Contributed By Steve Beckley

One of my favorite things to do is visit farms and, when I can combine the visit with a winery, thats even better! Last week I visited New Clairvaux Abbey and Vineyard in Vina. New Clairvaux was established in 1955 by Trappist Cistercian Monks when they purchased land that was part of Mexican land grant awarded to Peter Lassen and then became part of Leland Stanfords Great Vina Ranch. At one time this was the worlds largest winery, distillery and vineyard. The order has a strong agricultural and winemaking foundation dating back to the 12th century in Europe.

I have visited here several times and always find a peacefulness and serenity sometimes missing on other farm visits. This trip was special in that I was given a tour of the vineyards, grounds and winery by winemaker Aimée Suneri, a fifth generation California winemaker. I also had the opportunity to visit with several members of the order, including two monks that were working in the vineyard.

They farm over 600 acres of walnuts, prunes and grapes on Vina Loam, an alluvial soil formed by flooding of the Sacramento River and creeks many years ago. Also the grounds have many native Oak trees. Sustainability and stewardship of resources are evident in all aspects of the farm and property.

I was smiling on the way home as I had been privileged to spend time with some of the people make the Sacramento Valley such a very special place.

New Clairvaux 2018 St James Block Moschofilero

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Light to medium bodied, this wine is made on a Cistercian monastery property from a Greek grape variety that’s extremely rare in California. It tastes dry and refreshing, and has mild melon and green-apple flavors. Jim Gordon

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All tastings reported in the Buying Guide are performed blind. Typically, products are tasted in peer-group flights of from 5-8 samples. Reviewers may know general information about a flight to provide contextvintage, variety or appellationbut never the producer or retail price of any given selection. When possible, products considered flawed or uncustomary are retasted.

Ratings reflect what our editors felt about a particular product. Beyond the rating, we encourage you to read the accompanying tasting note to learn about a products special characteristics.

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New Clairvaux 2018 St James Block Assyrtiko

You now have FREE access to nearly 300,000 wine, beer and spirit reviews. Cheers!

This light-bodied wine smells a bit floral and minerally, tastes delicate, mildly fruity and floral, and has a crisp and refreshing profile. It’s made at a Cistercian monastery in the northern interior of California. Jim Gordon

  • rating
  • Alcohol
  • Not rated yet

All tastings reported in the Buying Guide are performed blind. Typically, products are tasted in peer-group flights of from 5-8 samples. Reviewers may know general information about a flight to provide contextvintage, variety or appellationbut never the producer or retail price of any given selection. When possible, products considered flawed or uncustomary are retasted.

Ratings reflect what our editors felt about a particular product. Beyond the rating, we encourage you to read the accompanying tasting note to learn about a products special characteristics.

Film Stars Winemaking California Monks

New Clairvaux Vineyard Wine

New Clairvaux Vineyard marries devotion and commerce

Vina, Calif.Since 2000, a community of Cistercian monks has been tending vines and making wines in a remote corner of California. Now, John Beck documents their struggles in his new film Monks of Vina, which screens today and Sunday at the Napa Valley Film Festival.

Last year Beck released Harvest, which focused on Sonomas exceptionally difficult 2011 crush and the growers, winemakers and laborers who struggled to bring it in.

Filmed at New Clairvaux Vineyards Monks of Vina profiles the winemaking monks in the remote town of Vina, which is about 100 miles north of Sacramento, Calif. Although grapegrowing and winemaking are an essential element, many of the challenges faced by the monks are self-inflicted: Self-flagellation, medieval undergarments, poverty, chastity and obedience. These modern monks pray seven times daily, but limit conversation Their hypnotic, mournful chanting haunts the films soundtrack.

The brotherhood took up residence on this historic California site after outgrowing its mother community in Kentucky.

The original property owner, Leland Stanford, was a founding father of California, former governor and founder of Stanford University who helped link the nascent state to the East Coast via railroad. Stanford registered a rare fail at Vina. He planted winegrape vines next to the railroad, but never succeeded in marketing his produce.

Supporting the monastic life

Monks on film

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California History In A Bottle New Clairvaux Vineyard

in Travel Where You Want To Go, Wineries

What links together railroad magnate Leland Stanford, a dismantled Spanish building, and cloistered monks in a tiny northern California farm town?

This story is about row after row of vines, lots of grapevines. And where theres vines, theres wine.

Amongst his ambitious business interests and pursuits, Leland Stanford was bent on making wines as good as the famous French wine houses. After a couple of attempts, his biggest push started in 1881 with purchasing land in northern Californias Tehama County. Shortly after he started his vineyards there, Stanford constructed a winery that would eventually be capable of storing two million gallons of wine. By 1889, almost 4,000 acres of vineyards had been planted, making his Great Vina Ranch, at that time, the largest vineyard and winery in the world.

Fast forward to more modern times. In 2000, Phil Sunseri, grandson of the founder of Nichelini Family Winery , partnered with the monks and planted two experimental vineyards, the loamy St. James and rocky Poor Souls, with grape varieties that flourished in the local terroir success! the right vines in the right place.

Phils daughter, Aimee Sunseri, after receiving her degree in 2003 studying viticulture and enology at UC Davis, became New Clairvauxs winemaker. Today, this fifth generation enologist continues to make wine at New Clairvaux and also at her familys aforementioned winery.

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Beautiful Grounds To Enjoy

Were already looking forward to the Holiday gifts and merriment! We usually make a trip to the New Clairvaux Monestary around the holidays, then top it off with refreshments for all. This is such a great time, everyone loves spending a few hours hear. Quiet, Simple, Reserved. Just as a day should be.


You really can find such crazy mix only in California! To keep it short, back in XIX century, Mr. Stanford started a winery here and at some point it was the largest wine making enterprise in the world. Then Mr. Hearst some time later bought an abandoned Spanish monastery building and moved it stone by stone to California. It took almost a hundred years before they were finally used to build a new church here in 2003 and now there are even monks here! It’s amazing how this relatively remote part of California is connected to so many places in space and time through it’s wild history!And yes, it’s a beautiful winery with some nice wines, they are different from what you’d find in Napa or Sonoma, so check them out too!

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Abbey Of New Clairvaux Offers Valentine’s Match Made In Heaven

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Abbey of New Clairvaux Vineyards is pairing with Sisters of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance to offer customers wine made by the Abbeys monks and chocolates made by the Orders sisters. The wine and chocolate can be purchased at the Abbey located in Vina.

On any given day, Abbey of New Clairvaux monks and the abbey’s winery tasting room associates are asked by customers, “Where’s the chocolate with my wine?”

“And why not,” said Janet Hoffman, an associate in New Clairvaux Tasting Room in Vina. “Chocolate is a perfect pairing with several wines produced by the Cistercian monks at the Abbey of New Clairvaux and Aimee Sunseri, fifth generation California winemaker.”

Trappistine Chocolate from Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey in Wrentham, Mass., is the logical decadence to offer to New Clairvaux Vineyard customers since it’s made with love by the Sisters of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, more commonly known as Trappistines.

The Trappistine order was founded in 1098 in Citeaux, France, and is the same cloistered and contemplative order of the 23 brothers residing at the Abbey of New Clairvaux.

The monks of New Clairvaux Abbey and Vineyard are the only Trappist monastery in the US that grows and bottles its own wine.

It has been making award-winning wine since 2003.

“A match perfect for upcoming Valentine’s Day celebrations,” Hoffman said.

Live Stream Of Sunday Eucharist

Words With Wine: Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs (October 2021)

We will continue to go live via YouTube once a week on Sunday. Our Eucharistic liturgy will start at 7:30 a.m. every Sunday on .

Also, the monks are trying to grow their YouTube channel in order to live stream more Sunday liturgies and reach a wider audience. Please, consider subscribing to our channel.

Thank you for your continued support of our mission and ministry of prayer!

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Abbey Of New Clairvaux

The Abbey of New Clairvaux is a rural Trappist monastery located in Northern California in the small town of Vina in Tehama County. The farmland, once owned by Leland Stanford, grows prunes, walnuts, and grapes that the monks harvest from the orchards and vineyards to sustain the community.

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“Actually, the winery and my vocation have grown up together,” he says.

The 20 brothers of New Clairvaux are Trappist monks, a subset of Cistercians. They live in a walled-off cloister, and rarely leave the property.

“There’s people who don’t understand that. They think, ‘What are you guys doing? There are so many needs in the world, and here you guys are wearing your pajamas, singing in a barn,’ ” Brother Christopher says with a laugh.

He’s talking about their long white robes and their beautiful but unadorned plywood church. The brothers spend hours every day in silence and prayer.

Brother Christopher says the winery and his religious vocation have grown up together.

“I really believe that it’s important that there are people who are totally, 100 percent devoted to prayer,” Brother Christopher says.

But the monks need to work to survive. They live off their own labor not donations and winemaking is one of their efforts.

Brother Rafael Florez is in the abbey’s St. James vineyard, wearing the work uniform of jeans and a navy sweatshirt to prune vines. When he came here from Ecuador 18 years ago, he’d been seeking the right religious order for all of his adult life. He also had no experience with grapes, but he’s part of a long legacy of Cistercian vintners. European monks of their order have made wine for nearly 900 years, including at one of the most celebrated wineries in the world, . For Brother Rafael this work and his vocation go hand in hand.

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Trappist Monks Heavenly Wine

“Then I set bowls full of wine and some cups before the Rekabites and said to them, “Drink some wine …” Jeremiah 35:5. God, man, and wine all rolled into one visit. Attended Sunday Mass in the abbey’s chapel which was very inspiring. Afterword, walked 100 yards to the New Clairvaux winery tasting room . The young staff were knowledgeable and friendly. A flight cost $5 each. We tasted, then bought, the Viognier and the Nouveau Tempranillo. We also purchased the Table Red without tasting it. Free cheese and crackers. They release new wines periodically. They also have a club. The wines were very good to good. Prices were $$. Some had won awards at the CA state fair. Peter Lassen, Stanford, and Hearst all have historic ties to this land. Quiet surroundings hug up against an authentic 800-year-old Spanish Cistercian chapel that was transported here and that the monks are reconstructing, stone-by-stone. This place was originally developed here in the 1800s because of the nearby railroad. The miniscule nearby community of Vina, 18 miles north of Chico, CA, sports a few homes, a weed patch park, and a tiny store. This Trappist monastery is the first of its kind in North America to grow, vinify, and bottle its own wine. Cheers!

History And Daily Life

2016 New Clairvaux Vineyard Petite Sirah Aimée, USA ...

The Abbey was established in 1955 when monks from the Abbey of Gethsemani sought to begin a foundation in California. The monks live an austere contemplative life of penance and prayer on behalf of the reparation of sins. Their order is called Cistercians of the Strict Observance.

The setting is extremely quiet and the monastery is completely hidden behind a wall that separates the guest and extern quarters and the monastic enclosure. There is very little interaction between the monks and retreatants however, guests are welcome to join the monks in the chapel to chant the Divine Office seven times per day, beginning with Vigil at 3:30 a.m. and ending with Compline at 7:35 p.m.

California Governor Jerry Brown is known to visit the Abbey. In 2009 Brown visited at the monastery before announcing his candidacy for California Governor.

From 1980 to 2013, the number of members of the abbey decreased from 35 to 22.

In 1994, the stones were given to the abbey. In 2004, after raising $7 million in~funds, the construction of the chapter house began outside the cloister of the Abbey of New Clairvaux. In October 2008, the ancient chapter house’s Gothic portal was completed. In 2009, construction on the interior of the chapter house began with Gothic columns rising to their capitals. The 2010 Sierra Nevada Brewing Company partnership helped the abbey finance this project. Additional limestones from Texas were purchased to complete the plans.

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Welcome To New Clairvaux New Clairvaux
    May Our Lady of New Clairvaux, Queen and guardian of this Cistercian abbey, stand together with us in the shadow of her Sons cross so that we might come to know the joy of His glorious resurrection. May her tender intercession bring healing to all who are afflicted, eternal rest to those who have died, and comfort to all those who mourn …

New Clairvaux Abbey’s Vineyard Now Certified Organic

The monks of Our Lady of New Clairvaux Abbey, located in Vina, CA, supports their monastic life by farming, including cultivating wine grapes and making international award winning wine. Recently, the monks announced that their vineyards have met the exacting standards of organic certification. The vineyard manager, Br. Luis Cortez, explains:

Good news! The community recently received news of its organic certification for monastery vineyard blocks St. James and Trinity. This certification follows a three-year probation period required by California Certified Organic Farmers, the largest certifier in the nation, wherein we transform our farming practices to exclude chemicals and farming practices that could pose risks to the health of persons and the land. Our patrons and guests can be assured that we have, in the spirit of Pope Francis encyclical, Laudato Si, made decisions for the betterment of the earth and for the enhanced safety of all our valued guests.

For all this we praise God. We are most grateful that we have been able to put into practice some of the ideals taught by the Church through our Holy Father, Pope Francis. It is not easy it requires sacrifices and extra effort, but it can be done. We pray that this small achievement will encourage us and all our friends to further realize the vision our Church has for the protection and enhancement of our shared homeEarth, and for the promotion of the dignity, health, and safety of all Gods people.

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