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Volume 39, Number 3

Richardton, ND 58652

July 2011

Assumption Abbey Wine

People often ask why we sell sacramental and table wines at Assumption Abbey. European monasteries have a long history of selling alcoholic beverages, beer in Germany for instance, but in most of the monasteries of the United States this is not the case.

In 1959 Abbot Ignatius Hunkler was looking for ways to provide ongoing funding for our schools. At the same time, Philo Biane of Brookside Vineyards, Guasti, California, was looking to name his premium table wines. Through a mutual friend -- Emmett Culligan of soft water fame -- Abbot Ignatius and Philo Biane were introduced to each other. And so it all began. Philo introduced his premium label table wines using the Assumption Abbey name, with intentions of national distribution. Some stores were set up in various cities. For each case of wine sold, Assumption Abbey received a royalty for the use of our name, and these funds were, in fact, used for the operation of our schools. By the time that Brookside Vineyards closed this enterprise in 1982, we had received considerable royalties; for this we are very grateful to the Biane family.

Besides these table wines, Brookside also bottled Assumption Abbey sacramental wines, sometimes called altar wines. To be used for the celebration of the Eucharist, wine must have the approval of a bishop, which our wine has. We began ordering wine by the truckload and then selling this sacramental wine to area churches. We gradually built up a customer base of many Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Episcopal churches in North Dakota, as well as in neighboring states. Because of freight costs involved, Assumption Abbey sacramental wines are not sold far from North Dakota any more. We sell about 700 cases of sacramental wines per year, and we feel this is an important service that we offer for churches, many of whom pick up wines at the Abbey to save on freight charges.

In the early 1970s, Abbot Robert West decided that we should carry a line of Assumption Abbey table wines here in Richardton. He appeared before the Stark County Commissioners with a few bottles of wine and applied for a restricted county license to sell wine as an “off-sale” retailer. A similar license was applied for and received from the State of North Dakota. As a result, we sell about 300 to 400 cases of table wines per year, much of this by the bottle. The people who purchase these wines are neighbors, guests and tourists, especially in the summer months. Members of various groups that we host also purchase wine. We cannot ship wine through UPS or USPS.

In 1982, Assumption Abbey found San Antonio Winery/Madallena Vineyards near Los Angeles, California to do private labeling for us. The labels are printed with our name and information, and San Antonio bottles and labels as many cases as we order for Richardton sales. The label indicates that the wine is California wine.

For about 35 years now, we have been ordering one truck load of about 1,000 to 1,100 cases per year. The monks have unloaded these heavy cases of wine from the truck by hand. Just this past year, through the generosity of our donors, we are widening doors in the basement of the cafeteria building so we can unload pallets of wine with a skid steer and move these pallets directly into the storage room without relying on a large amount of hand labor. We thank our many donors who have made this and many other projects possible. Thanks to you all!          

Br. Elias stacks cases of wine for display in the Abbey Wine Cellar.


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