The spiritual practice of wine from 3,000BC to now

“The intellectual quest, though fine as pearl or coral, is not the spiritual search. Spiritual wine is a different substance. The intellect and the senses investigate cause and effect. The spiritual seeker surrenders to the wonder.”

— Rumi (1207-1273)

Can drinking wine be part of a spiritual approach to life?

Let us explain ourselves.

You won't find a new-age spirituality book about how wine is the secret to a happier existence (or might you?) – and, as you might expect, the Dalai Lama does not drink alcohol.

Is drinking wine very much a part of the 'materialistic' culture in which we find ourselves.

Australia, for example, the world’s fifth-largest wine exporter, accounts for around 4% of the global wine industry (around $400 billion total).

As we know, a certain Jesus Christ once threw the merchants out of the Temple.

So, the questions remain.

Does wine have a spiritual meaning for us? Has there ever been a spiritual meaning of wine? Can we recover a more spiritual purpose of wine in the 21st century?

We would say yes, one can have their wine and drink it!

Ancient Egyptian depictions of wine start to show up around 3,000BC – in the above image (north side of the west wall of Nakht's offering chapel) a wall painting in a burial chamber shows people collecting and making wine (bottom-right corner).


The ‘spirit’ in the substance

Have you ever wondered why we call distilled alcoholic drinks ‘spirits’?

We were fascinated to learn it was the Greek polymath Aristotle who, in 327BC, wrote about the process of distilling alcohol.

He called this magic elixir ‘spirit’ as he thought drinking distilled wine or beer put ‘spirits’ into the body of the drinker.

It seems ‘woo-woo’, but it’s also quite straight-forward to think of it this way.

The word ‘spirit’ in Greek is pneuma which also means ‘breath’.

In the process of distillation, you heat up a liquid, which gives off steam, and then the liquid distilled from this steam quite literally is the ‘breath’ or ‘spirit’ of your original liquid.

Here’s a very brief timeline of how cultures and religions have applied a spirit-based understanding to wine:

  • Ancient Egypt 3000BC – The Ancient Egyptians reserved wine for religious rituals, believing the ‘spirit’ brought one into communion with the gods. It became canonical for the deceased to have five different types of wine in their burial chambers – even King Tut was buried with fine white wines!
  • Ancient Greece 1200BC – The Greek god Dionysus was the god of wine, religious ecstasy, theatre and music. His followers believed that drinking wine helped them become ‘enthusiastic’ (literally meaning ‘inspired by a god’).
  • Ancient Rome 200BC – Dionysus was known as Bacchus by the Romans, and his followers believed that drinking wine in his honour helped them experience divine joy and liberation from their worldly cares.
  • Christianity – The New Testament in the Bible gives wine a whole range of spiritual meanings. Most well known is the wedding of Cana when Jesus turned water into wine, but wine also has spiritual meaning during communion. The spiritual meaning of wine here is often literally understood to represent the resurrection of Jesus Christ – in the sense that ‘dead’ grapes do not decay, but instead ferment and are filled with a new ‘spirit’ that helps them live again.
  • Islam – Actually drinking wine is a controversial subject in Islam, but there’s a verse in the Quran (al-Saaffaat) which states that in heaven people drink cups of ‘pure wine’ in the presence of God, which does not cause any kind of pain or headaches nor cause intoxication!

This image depicts Silenus, a minor god of winemaking and tutor of Dionysus, as painted during the Renaissance period by Anthony van Dyck. As in the Roman days, during the Renaissance the question of whether wine meant spiritual ritual or hedonistic frenzy was still a lively debate!


How do we reconcile negative spiritual meanings of wine?

Of course, just as there are positive spiritual meanings of wine, there are negative spiritual meanings of wine.  Balance?

For example:

  • “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.”
    – Proverbs 20:1
  • “One is to refrain from drinking even a drop of alcohol and taking intoxicants because they are the cause of heedlessness. If any Buddhists succumb to the lure of intoxicating drinks, they shall not consider me as a teacher.”
    – One of the Buddha’s recorded sayings

How to reconcile these very different spiritual meanings of wine?

It is fascinating that during Prohibition in the United States, wine was still permitted in a religious context.

But in the sense that even during a time of extreme attitudes, people still distinguished the drinking of wine according to the purpose behind its consumption.

There’s a fascinating quote from the theologian John Calvin who, in 1557, said the best way to avoid drunkenness was not to abstain but to ‘drink with an attitude of thanksgiving’.

That, to us, encapsulates a very spiritual way of living which we think many of us already aim to apply to our lives in general.

Theologians like John Calvin sought to accommodate a more positive spiritual understanding of wine, in that it helps us to temper our emotions and generally live a happier life.


Natural wines as a modern spiritual ritual – do try at home!

When you think about it, it’s hard not to be awestruck at the miracle of wine.

As winemakers, we are at the mercy of natural processes quite out of our hands – we rely on the almost-magic ability of yeasts to give grape juice a whole new dimension.

The forces of nature always provide, quite literally turning flavoured water into wine before our eyes!

At UMAMU Estate, our whole wine-making philosophy is one of letting nature do its thing.

We pride ourselves on making wines which don’t need mass-produced additives or colourants (you’d be surprised how common they are) and let the bounty of nature shine through.

From our sustainable approach to agriculture, to our passion for making healthful wines, to our love of very mindfulness-friendly wine tasting and wine pairing activities – could that class as a some kind of spiritual ritual?

At a time when many of us are secular, or un-dogmatic in our appreciation of world religions, we think there’s a case for it.

Science says that drinking polyphenol-rich natural wines (in moderation) is good for our gut health, buying from a winery like UMAMU Estate helps promote sustainable agriculture which is good for the planet and small businesses which is good for the economy, and then there’s actually tasting wine which is one of the most engaging and rewarding mindfulness practices we can think of! And at UMAMU, our core essence is Balance & Contentment and reflecting on our lives while sipping some wine.

To us, if you approach wine with the same mindset as we do, you are spirituality in motion.

In this sense, wine continues to thrive as a gift of the gods that keeps on giving.

Here’s to celebrating a more spiritual meaning of wine in the years to come.