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In Napa Valley, Harvest Begins With a Blessing

August 25, 1986|BRUCE KEPPEL

As for the 20 preceding harvests, Father Charles de Pierre traveled to Oakville in California's Napa Valley from his parish in Spokane, Wash., and donned a 200-year-old vestment of Philippine silk before emerging from the Robert Mondavi Winery in the tiny town of Oakville to bless the winery's first load of grapes--Chardonnay--before consigning them to the crusher. "This is God's country," the priest said under a perfectly clear sky last week, recalling that Noah's first enterprise after the Flood was to establish a vineyard. After the harvest, he made a sacrificial offering to God of the best of his grapes. "Each grape will lose its life," he explained to a throng of onlookers, "but each will rise again in beautiful colors of pink and red and gold." After the pale green fruit, the priest blessed the workers who will continue the harvest through September and transform the berries into wine, "to the honor of God and to the health and well-being of man." Then he sprinkled holy water over the cart of grapes, passed incense over them and, finally, crushed the first few bunches with his own hands. The crush was on.

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