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Altar wine’s Quebec comeback awaits approval

By 
  • January 9, 2021

A new, eco-friendly Mass wine is awaiting approval from the Archdiocese of Montreal to bring a locally-made wine back to the altars of Quebec churches.

If approved, wine fermented by the Vignoble Vertefeuille vineyard in La Prairie, Que., could soon be incorporated into the eucharistic celebrations, the first Quebec product to be used since 2015. 

Norman Lévesque, who led the first push to introduce eco-friendly altar wine when he joined the Green Churches Network in 2009, played an instrumental role in identifying Vignoble Vertefeuille as a potential partner. It follows on his previous experience in using a local winery to supply altar wine when in 2010 he successfully identified a Mass wine partner in Domaine des Cotes d’Ardoise, a 7,500-hectare vineyard at Dunham, Que.

The Vignoble Vertefeuille white wine would be made available in more than 1,400 Catholic churches throughout Quebec if approved. Protestant and Orthodox churches also opted to incorporate this eco-friendly product, said Lévesque.

Before the local vineyard stepped up, wine was imported from a vineyard from over 4,000 kilometres away in California, an arrangement that creates a larger ecological footprint despite efforts to lessen the ecological effects by the California partner. The Green Churches Network is a non-profit organization with a mission statement to “equip faith communities to opt for better ecological practices while educating members to live in a way that stewards Creation,” and Lévesque saw a local solution at hand.

Lévesque, a Catholic, said the original arrangement worked nicely from 2010 through 2015, when a drought hit.

“There was an excessively warm summer in Quebec in 2015. They were hit with a lot of problems and they wanted to save their wine production so they added ingredients to it. I am guessing they added alcohol to it. They were very transparent about it and said, ‘sorry, we don’t have any altar wine for you this year,’ ” he said.

Adding components is not permitted as canonical law dictates sacramental wine must be naturally fermented by grapes. It cannot be soured or have any vinegar or artificial ingredients included.

Lévesque said there were promising discussions with other wineries in the five years following the conclusion of the Domaine des Cotes d’Ardoise arrangement, but the potential partnership with Vignoble Vertefeuille represents the closest the Green Churches Network has come to getting eco-friendly, Quebec-fermented wine back into Masses.

The first-time green sacramental wine was approved, that seal of approval was granted by the Ordinary office, but Levesque discovered through research over the years that the Quebec bishops in the 1950s decreed that Montreal’s chancery office should determine if a new wine should be approved.

“I informed the chancery in October (of the new wine), and I have had to send a lot of e-mails for them to take the matter seriously,” said Levesque. “This has not been a natural process for them because they are being asked to do something that the bishops voted on in the ’50s.”

If the chancery ultimately provides a seal of approval, the wine will be sent to the labs of the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ), who will make a final determination if the Vignoble Vertefeuille product will be designated as altar wine.

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