From DON KAVANAGH | The Wine Searcher | Posted Monday, 22-Dec-2014

An Italian wine delegation is meeting with the pope next year, praying he will put in a good word upstairs.  After having a year from hell in 2014, the Italian wine industry is hoping for help from above next year, and a visit to the pope is the first step.

In January, a delegation of 150 winemakers, growers and sommeliers will have an audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican and wine will definitely be on the agenda, given the pope’s Italian heritage and obvious appreciation of a glass of wine.

Pope Francis admires the gift of olive oil and vin santo presented to him by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

© AFP | Pope Francis admires the gift of olive oil and vin santo presented to him by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

According to the Italian media, the meeting was brokered by Franco Ricci, director of the Italian wine guide Bibenda and president of the Italian Foundation of Sommeliers. « The pope loves wine and has it on the table at Santa Marta, » Ricci said, referring to the building adjacent to Saint Peter’s Basilica, where the pope has lived since his election in 2013. « I wrote to him asking for a meeting with a group from the wine industry and I got a reply back saying yes.« 

The group will no doubt be asking for the pope’s prayers for a better year than 2014, when the harvest was the smallest for 50 years, after rain and hail decimated vineyards the length of the country. That came on top of figures showing falling consumption in the domestic market and rising unemployment in the sector.

Pope Francis, meanwhile, rarely passes up the opportunity to mention wine, which is probably related to his heritage.  His grandfather was a winemaker in Piedmont before his son fled Mussolini’s fascists in 1929, settling in Argentina.

There is also a more symbolic link between the Catholic religion with wine, with the central sacrament of the Mass a re-enactment of the Last Supper, when Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine as his body and his blood, offered as a sacrifice for the salvation of mankind.

The pope has also made frequent references to wine in his homilies, once observing: « There is no party without wine; imagine finishing the Wedding Feast of Cana drinking tea.« 

Pope Francis has also used wine imported from his native Argentina for religious services at the Vatican, although when Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi made him a present of wine in September, it was Italian wine to the fore. Appropriately enough, it was vin santo, or holy wine, a sweet wine made from grapes dried on straw mats. The wine was traditionally used in the Mass.

Renzi turned to Ricci to help him choose the gifted wines and the lucky pontiff received bottles from wineries in the Vin Santo del Chianti Classico DOC from Giovanni Manetti Fontodi, Vignamaggio (made in the Mona Lisa’s old home) and the Felsina Vin Santo.