Thursday, 21 January 2010

"Pass the Port..." Australian Lutherans and Wine

Being in the course of unpacking and setting up a new residence this last week in temperatures that are 3-4 degrees celsius hotter than average for this time of year (it is the antipodean summer, American friends), and being on holiday, I have re-discovered the perfect aperitif to enjoy in the early summer evenings: white port on ice. Normally, when I am "on duty" I abstain from alcoholic beverages as one never knows when an emergency call may come, but being technically in between parishes for a few weeks I can enjoy the odd glass of wine at meal times without a qualm - and Australia is a wine drinkers paradise where quality wine can be had for a very reasonable price. Which brings me to my real subject, Lutherans and wine.

The average Australian Lutheran is the only type of Pietist I know who enjoys a drink, and since last week's Gospel was our Lord's first miracle of turning water into wine, and not just vin ordinaire but really good stuff that drank like it had been laid down in the cellar for a decade or so, this seems like an appropriate time to reflect on this phenomenon.

"Scratch the skin of an Australian Lutheran and you'll find a Baptist underneath" is a humourous aphorism that I have heard from time to time (no offence intended to my regular commentator, Matthias, who happens to be attending a Baptist congregation at the moment!). But if Australian Lutherans are sometimes confused about the difference between Lutheranism and Evangelical Pietism, one subject where that confusion doesn't apply is their understanding that wine is a gift from God to be enjoyed with thanksgiving and a clear conscience - provided drunkeness is avoided, that is!

This is something that not only our Australian evengelical friends have difficulty understanding, but even our fellow Lutherans in the US whose churches were founded by Scandinavian Pietists, who were as strict about abstinence as any Methodist (ironically, John Wesley actually urged his working-class converts to enjoy an ale rather than the demon Gin, and Australia's only surviving family-owned brewery, Cooper's, was founded by a Methodist lay-preacher, but that's another story).

(Pic: Barossa Valley, South Australia, in early spring, with grape vines recently pruned.)

One story I heard at seminary concerned the visiting mid-western American theologian who taught a Bible study to a local Lutheran Ladies Fellowship and was thanked with the gift of a bottle of Barossa Port (i.e. wine fortified with brandy spirit from the Barossa Valley, one and a half hours drive north of Adelaide). He found this so extraordinary that he did not open the bottle but took it back to the States along with the card because "the folks back home just won't believe this"...and the story goes that they didn't!

American Lutheran friends might be surprised to learn that Lutheran pastors and their parishioners were at the forefront of establishing vineyards in Australia, particularly in South Australia, where Lutherans settled in greatest numbers, and where the Mediterranean climate was particularly suited to the grape. Of course, communion wine was a necessity they were seeking to supply, but these viticultural pioneers also laid the foundations for the South Australian wine industry (Anglicans such as the Penfolds were also involved in this endeavour), which is world renowned not only for quality wines at all price-points of the market, but also for innovation, and which is still dominated by Lutheran families (indeed, the Schrapel family of Bethany Wines make a luscious white port from primarily the frontignac grape). (Pic: The Schrapel family's Bethany Vineyard in the Barossa Valley in high summer. Note the Mediterranean-type vegetation and terrain, along with the grape vines nestled in the bowl-like shelter of the rising hills behind - perfect terroir for wine grapes.)

To be continued...

8 comments:

Matthias said...

"Scratch the skin of an Australian Lutheran and you'll find a Baptist underneath" . No offence taken Pastor,I did laugh. However I was surprised at my Church's first Thursday night service for 2009 -where the vision for the year is laid out- to hear a member of the Church leadership say that the meetings of the executive are often held over a bottle of red. Thus could it be that "scratch the skin of an australian baptist you'll find a Lutheran" I would hope so.
By the way the Lutheran blog BROTHERS OF STEADFAST JOHN have a section on Pietists which seems to see Pietists in the same light as Aussies viewed Wowsers

acroamaticus said...

"Scratch the skin of an Australian Baptist and you'll find a Lutheran"...maybe we're closer than we thought, then? ;0)

(There are two great resources that provide an introduction to Lutheran Pietism, Matthias, 'The Hammer of God', a novel by Bo Giertz, a fine Swedish Lutheran bishop in the 20th century, availabnle in paperback, and the film 'Babbette's Feast', based on a novel by Karen Blixen, available on DVD.)

Melanchthon said...

"Wowsers?"

The Lutheran situation in the US is all over the place. I grew up in pietistic congregations (old ALC or LCA) where every church was dry. Some people drank in their homes, but alcohol was never offered to the pastor and no alcohol was ever present at church functions, picnics, or camp outings.

I was in for quite the cultural shock in Pennsylvania when I served a German heritage parish established in the early 19th century. On home visits I was nearly always offered a glass of beer, and wind and beer flowed frequently at weddings, funerals, and church work days.

Not many smoke these days, but I remember being shocked (about 14 years old) to see my pastor smoking behind the church! (He never did it in public.) I think I was concerned for his salvation, before my dad set me straight. :-)

I took a wonderful class in Gettysburgh on pietism. Muhlenberg came from pietist roots. I don't miss the excesses of pietism, but I do miss the enthusiasm for the gospel and missions that were part and parcel of the church of my youth.

Melanchthon said...

You knew this was coming, didn't you? :-)

From Monty Python:
A lot of people in this country pooh-pooh Australian table wines. This is a pity as many fine Australian wines appeal not only to the Australian palate but also to the cognoscenti of Great Britain.

Black Stump Bordeaux is rightly praised as a peppermint flavoured Burgundy, whilst a good Sydney Syrup can rank with any of the world's best sugary wines.

Château Blue, too, has won many prizes; not least for its taste, and its lingering afterburn.

Old Smokey 1968 has been compared favourably to a Welsh claret, whilst the Australian Wino Society thoroughly recommends a 1970 Coq du Rod Laver, which, believe me, has a kick on it like a mule: eight bottles of this and you're really finished. At the opening of the Sydney Bridge Club, they were fishing them out of the main sewers every half an hour....

acroamaticus said...

Heh, Heh, yes, and I seem to remember The Goodies (Did you get The Goodies in the US? Maybe not. Kind of a cross between The Goons and Monty Python but not as talented as either) doing a similar skit back in the '70s too. All I can say is Australian wine has come a long way since then, and the Brits find it hard to admit that anything good can come out of Australia! (Doesn't stop them from swilling down millions of litres of Jacon's Creek and Yellow Tail every year, though.)

acroamaticus said...

Jon,

I find American Lutheran history fascinating, so I'd love to hear more of your reminiscences of your Pietist upbringing and experience at sem one day. So you're a Gettysburg old boy, eh? Talk about being steeped in history!

Oh yes, "wowser" was Australian slang for a Methodist or other temperance preacher, which more recently has become broadened to include anyone who is a "stick in the mud" or against having a good time. There is a strong streak of hedonism in Australian life that goes back to our beginnings; when the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay they had a thanksgiving service, but when the convicts of the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay they all got drunk on rum and it was downhill from there. Ever since Australians have tended to divide between the hedonists and the puritans, or wowsers. Thus unchurched Australians tend to identify Christianity with "wowserism".

acroamaticus said...

Jon,

I find American Lutheran history fascinating, so I'd love to hear more of your reminiscences of your Pietist upbringing and experience at sem one day. So you're a Gettysburg old boy, eh? Talk about being steeped in history!

Oh yes, "wowser" was Australian slang for a Methodist or other temperance preacher, which more recently has become broadened to include anyone who is a "stick in the mud" or against having a good time. There is a strong streak of hedonism in Australian life that goes back to our beginnings; when the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay they had a thanksgiving service, but when the convicts of the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay they all got drunk on rum and it was downhill from there. Ever since Australians have tended to divide between the hedonists and the puritans, or wowsers. Thus unchurched Australians tend to identify Christianity with "wowserism".

Matthias said...

"The term wowser — surely one of the most impressive and expressive of Australian coinages — is used to express healthy contempt for those who attempt to force their own morality on everyone"
tHE women's christian temperatnce union use have marches against the demon drink.The WCTU and the rechabites health fund,use to sponsor here in Victoria a exam for grade 6 students and I can recall having an hour a week prior learning about the evils of alcohol IN A STATE SCHOOL. It was in the curriculum and my 6th grade teacher was a Catholic who told us about the italian who labelled his home brew "Hen wine" - because you lay where you drank it!!!