On a perfect day in early May, beneath the outstretched, benedictory branches of great gum trees, I blessed the new wine at Best's Winery, which is in Ararat parish.  The vines were in splendid autumnal colour and a chorus of corellas were reverentially silent as our parish choir sang, and derisively cacophonous while I spoke. 


Every single day of my life in Ararat I blessed Best's wine. Not because I'm a boozy old wino with a strawberry red and pitted nose, a spidery network of broken veins all over my cheeks, trembling hands and a weak bladder, but because I'm a parish priest.  Every day of the week I made my way to the altar, took a cruet of Best's fortified wine, poured it into a silver and gold chalice, and invited down God's blessing and presence upon it.


Best's Winery supplied Holy Trinity Church, Ararat, with Communion Wine. They did so all the time that I was Rector there and I think long before that too.  Their wine was well used to being blessed, more than blessed, consecrated in order to fortify, comfort, inspire, strengthen and Christianise the faithful.


Draining the Chalice

When I was an inexperienced young priest at the Cathedral in Harare, I often encountered derelict drunks sleeping and twitching in the cloisters. A surprisingly high proportion of them, if ever engaged in conversation, would say, "I used to be a choir boy in this cathedral...."   This is the drunkard's prosaic version, I suspect, of the adult Wordsworth's, Traherne's and Vaughan's view of a golden and divine‑glory permeated childhood....

Happy those early days!  When I

Shined in my angel‑infancy....


In Harare's Cathedral, folk with rather too great a taste for wine would sometimes find their way to the altar rail. I can remember the Dean instructing me on how to administer the chalice in an economical way:  "Hold it up hard against the upper lip, Andrew, that stops the greedy blighters sucking the chalice dry!"   It is not only poverty stricken drunks who pose this sort of problem.  The first time that Lady Bagot, the wife of the Rev. Sidney Swann, MA, Vicar of Lindfield received Holy Communion from her husband, she drained the wine to the dregs, said, "Perfectly delicious, my dear!" and handed it back.


Skating on Thin Ice

Wine is dangerous, but then so is everything in life worthwhile, not least religion.  But who wants too much safety?  Who wants a life with no risks, no spice, and no challenge?  It was the pleasing old toper and wit Jeffrey Bernard who said that “skating on thin ice is a far better exercise than jogging....."  Far better too to sail close to the wind and risk swamping, than to plough safely along only where the wind takes you.


There is risk involved in drinking.  There is risk involved in religion.  Both can intoxicate, inebriate, turn you into an obsessed, unpleasant, self‑destructive and dangerous fanatic.  Drunkards and religious fanatics are about equal in unpleasantness.


Best's Best

So at Ararat we blessed a local vineyard's wine.  It was more than a promotional exercise, more than just a little bit of fun.  We were asking God to smile upon something we were proud of, something that has been laboured over, worked hard with, that has taken expertise, skill and ingenuity in the attempt to make it the very best... Best's best wine.


Because we believed it to be good,  we brought it before God for his approval, his blessing, knowing that God's approval and blessing upon any endeavour is essential for long term good, fulfilment, happiness and contentment.  To bless something is to ask God to make our relationship with it right, good and healthy for its future good and ours. 


The workers and proprietors of Best's Winery, which, certainly in those days was a winery which retained the atmosphere, warmth and welcome that comes from remaining a family concern, were not in the wine game merely and only for profit.  They endeavoured to produce good wine, the best wine, for profit certainly, but also because to do so is good in its own right.  Profit was not the only driving force in the enterprise.  Delight and justifiable pride in producing something worthwhile and wonderful was present in the undertaking as well.  To bless the wine was acknowledgment and reinforcement of this fact and to reinforce such a fact is indeed to bless, bless, bless.... 


So it was good to bless the year's wine from a lovely vineyard and winery, wine made for profit certainly, but also for the delight of creating from good grape juice, something beautiful, good, worthwhile and lovely in its own right, to enhance, throughout Australia and the world, wonderful meals, celebrations, great occasions.... And above all else to provide our Lord himself the means above all other means of realising himself among us in the Eucharist.