Thursday, October 2, 2008


When you live on The Mountain in the village of Sewanee, you accept limitations with respect to lack of grocery stores, pharmacies, dry goods stores – all of the scaled down qualities of a community of 2,300 residents and about 1,400 students. However, we go up the road to Monteagle to find conveniences and products of civilization that we think we can’t live without.

Monteagle even boasts a winery, a stone building with red roof, red trim, and a basement filled with vats and bottling equipment. Recently, we were overcome with curiosity to see what the operation looked like, perhaps to compare the wine tasting of Tennessee with northern California and Hill Country, Texas. I was pleasantly surprised when we walked into the spacious, well-appointed lobby. We stood at a long counter and enjoyed a few sips of the white wines offered to us and talked with Carolyn Johnston, one of the winery’s four owners. Carolyn’s husband, Tony, a co-owner, is a Professor of Agribusiness at Middle Tennessee State U. in Murpheesboro and also writes a column about wine in the Murpheesboro “Daily News Journal.” He has been a staunch advocate for the conversion of tobacco fields into vineyards here in Tennessee.

The Monteagle Winery has a small vineyard in the front yard of the property and produces Seyval Blanc, Vidal Blanc, and Chardonel from its grapes. It also produces wines from fruit grown in other areas of Tennessee, rather than those from fruit flavors or concentrates. The owners use Southern favorite fruits with which I’m certainly familiar – red and white muscadines and blackberries. We gained permission to view the vats and bottling equipment in the basement, and the fermented odor followed us back upstairs to a room filled with T-shirts bearing quotations from W. C. Fields, corkscrews, wine glasses, and packaged food to munch with wine at the Happy Hour. The winery features a “Music On the Mountain” event and a Vinofaire the first week-end in November and also hosts private receptions and business meetings. While talking with Carolyn, we made friends with a wine taster from Murpheesboro who claimed that he travels from Tennessee to Woodland, Texas every year to play Santa Claus, and he promised a bottle of Chardonel for everyone’s Christmas table.

Those who abstain from “the grape” might be interested to know that during Medieval times in Europe, the Roman Catholic Church widely approved of wine drinking, and, of course, it was necessary for the celebration of the Eucharist. Wine was a sign of conversion to the Christian faith, and there was nothing quite as salubrious for the ailing as the wines made by monks in France who stored it in caves to age successfully. In the Jewish faith, Kiddush is a blessing said over wine on Shabbat or on Jewish holidays: “Praise be the Eternal Ruler of the Universe who makes the fruit of the vine.” During the Passover meal, four cups of wine are consumed by Temple goers. I’ve attended many Seders with a Jewish friend (now deceased) and after the third glass of Mogan David, I (and everyone else) could sing well in Hebrew (or so we thought)!

And so much for a FYI about a local winery. I know many quatrains from THE RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KAYAAM as I grew up listening to my father recite verses from the Persian masterpiece that mentions wine innumerable times. I also have a limited edition of this book that I acquired when I lived in Iran back in the 70’s. My father’s favorite quatrain:

“Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the cup with sweet or bitter run,
The wine of life is oozing drop by drop,
The leaves of life are falling, one by one.”
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