Saturday, May 19, 2012

New Clairvaux

Today we went to visit the Abbey of New Clairveaux in the town of Vina which is also the home of the New Clairvaux Vineyard.  We had spoken to our friends Troy and Molly recently over how we've meant to visit the place for years, but had never gotten around to doing it.  It is only around a half an hour's drive from our home.  Last night, Troy called to invite us to join them as they visit the vineyard. 

The Abbey of New Clairvaux is a Trappist or "Cistercian" monastery.  Trappists, as you may know, are one of the monastic paths that focus on labor and efficiency.  If you're like me, you have a smattering of knowledge on the subject from that time in your 20s when you read Thomas Merton and thought you might like to become a monk (but not seriously.)  One of the most influential early Cistercians was Bernard of Clairvaux (for fellow church history buffs, you will remember his famous debate with Abelard.)

New Clairvaux was, in fact, established in the 1950s when the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky grew too large.  They sent a group out to California to start a spin-off.  Yes, not spoken in any of the history material I found at New Clairvaux, but easy to piece together, the Abbey of Gethsemani was the very monastery where Thomas Merton abode.  And, yes, he was there and world-famous in the 1950s.  So, this monastery could well exist because of that very impulse I cited earlier, but rather for those who did take that thought seriously when they read Thomas Merton in their 20s.

First, we got right down to business and visited the tasting room.  We tried the St. James Albariño from 2011 (a lovely white wine which we very nearly bought), the 2010 Poor Souls Barbera (which we did buy), the 2009 St. James Syrah (not our favorite), and the 2007 Abbot's Reserve (quite possibly the best wine I have ever tasted.) 

Had I a psychic connection with Laurie and known that she would have agreed that we should flagrantly flaunt our budget restrictions and buy it at any price, we would have a bottle of the Abbot's Reserve in our wine rack right now.  We console ourselves with the knowledge that this was not "our trip to the New Clairvaux Vineyard" but rather "our first trip to the New Clairvaux Vineyard."

All around the campus there were these gorgeous spots that seemed like time had come unhinged.  One kept glimpsing the modern right next to the antique right next to the ancient.

Which brings us to the rebuilding of the Santa María de Óvila Chapter House.

The building was originally a building in Guadalajara circa somewhere around 1190.  In the mid-1800s the Spanish government confiscated the property and disassembled it.  Almost 100 years later, William Randolph Hearst bought the stones, intending to use it to build some castle for himself somewhere that he never got around to.  They sat in a warehouse in San Francisco until the monks of New Clairvaux purchased them to rebuild the Chapter House on their Vina property.

Standing in the building, in the midst of construction, I felt both the weight and insignificance of eternity, as if I were enveloped in something at once much older than I and, in spite of appearances, fragile.

Their website shows what they are planning for the completion of the project.

After the vineyard, we had a picnic at the Woodson Bridge park and played Kubb in the grass by the banks of the Sacramento River.  It was one of the more splendid Saturdays we've had in recent memory. 

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