Godfather’s Wine

Something about being an atheist drinking baptized Christian wine with a godfather in show business

On The Town | Kata Cserveny | December 2008 / January 2009

Down a long crumbling stone staircase, the entrance to the Vinothek of the ancient Klosterneuburg Monastery is little more than a hole in the middle of the side walk. It was a Thursday evening in early October, rain pounding incessantly on the modern glass roof that shields the descent from harsh weather. It is almost seven, and visitors are shuffling into the sub-terrestrial wine estate shop to witness the baptism of this year’s newest wine.

The ceremony is complemented by an exhibition by Adolf Pen, a Slovenian artist whose paintings of wine glasses and Slovenian landscapes are to serve as a backdrop for the festivities.

The cellar is filled to the brim with people, few below the age of 50, clearly on to something the younger set haven’t figured out yet. They are crowded together, sipping wine, munching on dark bread and Liptauer, while several men in clerical gowns stand in close proximity to one of the thick stone pillars that buttress the arching brick ceilings. The busy murmurs around the room slowly die down, when a voice announces that the ceremony is about to begin.

I help myself to a glass, and review the invitation that brought me here: Stefan Ruzowitzky, the Oscar-winning Austrian film director is to be the young wine’s godfather. While the opening words are said by a man hidden by a grayscale of backs of heads, I peer down into my glass. I am slightly distracted by an irritating thought – something about being an atheist drinking baptized Christian wine with a godfather in show business.

It isn’t bad – the wine – slightly tart, slightly fruity, rather thin on substance; quite tasty if one’s taste leans toward young wines. None would expect any less; after all, the Klosterneuburg Monastery Wine Estate is not only the largest, but also one of Austria’s leading wine estates – an "ambassador of Austrian wine culture," as the label will tell you. In terms of this particular wine – a St. Laurent – Klosterneuburg is its largest producer worldwide, leading the field in both quality and diversity.

One more sip, I set the glass aside and meander to the front of the crowd, determined to catch a glimpse of Godfather Ruzowitzky, and perhaps snap a few photos of the ceremony. Though it’s easy to shut out the monotonous droning from the bible, the details of the moment are worth a final: Shelves of wine bottles arranged to perfection, stacks of wooden gift boxes and towering glass showcases. Several tables are set up behind the speakers, wrapped in white linen and lined with countless rows of polished bottles against a backdrop of earth-toned oil paintings by Pen.

An ancient wooden barrel dangles from the ceiling on a chain, in harmony with the crumbling bricks, and in pleasant clash with the modern architectural details of the cellar.

The ceremony comes to a close, rewarded with an echo of warm applause, followed afresh by a lively murmur of conversation.

Up the crumbling stone staircase, as anonymous as I came, I depart un-proselytized, yet one experience richer.

Other articles from this issue