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This East Bay Wine is Grown in…Cemeteries?

Cemeteries find new life from an unexpected source: vineyards.


Courtesy of Bishop’s Vineyard

Almost 300 years ago, Christian missionaries planted wine grapes in California. Today, 16 acres of vineyards flourish at St. Joseph in San Pablo, Holy Sepulchre in Hayward, and Holy Cross in Antioch, with 90 more acres available for planting at Queen of Heaven in Lafayette. Nothing unusual, right? Nothing—except these vineyards are planted inside cemeteries.

A decade ago, the Diocese of Oakland was looking for a less expensive way to maintain Catholic cemeteries.

Courtesy of Bishop’s Vineyard

“Grass costs $50,000 an acre to plant and maintain,” says Robert Seelig, executive director of Catholic cemeteries for the Diocese of Oakland, “whereas vineyards are $20,000 or less.”

Before even saying a Hail Mary, the diocese—with the support of the then-Bishop The Most Reverend Allen Vigneron—planted several varieties of grapes. The vineyards looked beautiful and provided something else, too: grapes to make sacramental wine.

At first, the Bishop’s Vineyard wines were used for Communion and served at charity events. Then in 2013, winemaker Shauna Rosenblum of Alameda’s Rock Wall Wine Company  agreed to produce the wines for the Diocese of Oakland.

“There are definitely some jokes one could make about the wines having a specific minerality,” says Rosenblum.   

Today, with nearly a thousand cases in production, Bishop’s Vineyard wines are on the verge of commercial success. And because profits from this venture are earmarked for Catholic education, it’s a case of all win and no whine.


Courtesy of Bishop’s Vineyard

Buying Guide

In a Diablo blind tasting of six Bishop’s Vineyard wines, the panel preferred the reds to the Chardonnay and rosé. Out on top: The Bishop’s Vineyard 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Collector’s Reserve ($36.99) and the 2013 Pinot Noir Collector’s Reserve ($26.99) were unanimously preferred.

Both were reminiscent of Old World–style reds, with more earth than fruit. The Pinot was light bodied and soft, with a long finish and good structure, while the Cabernet was round and balanced, containing hints of white pepper and dark berries. For information on the wine club and to buy, visit bishopsvineyard.org.

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