French monks pray and make wine on the Med

Tue Jul 26, 2011 5:01am EDT
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By Marcel Michelson

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - A group of southern French monks adhere strictly to the centuries-old rules of their monastery as they pray and work in a small community. But with modern marketing techniques they are lifting the wines they make to must-have items on exclusive tables in France and abroad.

The 20 or so monks of the Lerins Abbey on a small island in the Mediterranean near Cannes make about 30,000 bottles of wine per year, in between their regular religious duties.

The monks have been making wine on the islet since the Middle Ages, living in a monastery founded in the year 405 by Saint Honorat.

Over the centuries, the island and the abbey have seen many changes. They have been raided by pirates with the monks taken away, they changed from Benedictines to Cistercians and the monastery was closed by the French king in 1788 when there were just a few monks left.

The island was nationalized during the French revolution and the monastery sold to an actress who lived there for 20 years. The bishop of Fréjus bought the island in 1859 and 10 years later, Cistercian monks started a new community, using its ideal climate for growing vines to make wine.

In the 1990s, however, the monks decided to overhaul their wine-making process for better quality and marked five different 'terroir' areas on the island.

The abbot, Father Nicolas, took the decision under influence from Jacques Chibois, a top chef at his restaurant La Bastide de Saint Antoine in Grasse, not far away from Cannes and the Lerins islands.

Brother Marie Paques, the bursar or business manager in modern language, had a wine-making education in Hyeres, near Toulon on the Mediterranean coast, before he entered the order.   Continued...