Pope Francis To Use Altar Wine Produced Here

Sep 23, 2015

The visit of Pope Francis to New York City brings attention once again to Finger Lakes wine, with help from a small, old, Hemlock Lake winery.

"The leading Kosher brand in America and the leading Catholic brand in America - both in the Finger Lakes - I think that's really a unique story unto itself."

Winemaker Will Ouweleen is referring to a Constellation product and his O-Neh-Da Authentic Sacramental Wine, which will be on the altar when the Pope says mass.

Ouweleen contacted Cardinal Timothy Dolan, to offer his products for papal use.

"In my donation I said I'm looking for no recognition or compensation from the Archdiocese. I simply want to make sure that mass actually occurs and that you're using valid and licit matter."

He delivered them Monday.

"I'm the winemaker, chief bottle washer, the proprietor, the steward. And the wine has to be handled specially, because it's not loaded with preservatives, just natural wine."

Wine made from 100% grapes and no additives, made the same way for 143 years.

First Bishop of Rochester, Bernard John McQuaid
Credit Diocese of Rochester

"Bishop McQuaid founded the winery, right at the close of the Civil War. He saw potential in the Finger Lakes literally before virtually everyone else. And, to this day, through the grace of God alone, we continue to operate as a dedicated sacramental winery," said Ouweleen.

Bishop Bernard McQuaid saw how the grape-growing climate of the Finger Lakes could meet his need for a reliable source of wine for communion, said Ouweleen.

"Mass has to be celebrated with both bread and wine, so, he decided to plant his own vineyards, to solve that problem. He was a pioneer and kind of a prophet in many ways."

Ouweleen says he is simply following Catholic Church rules and Canon Law (924).

"The majority of the churches in the Rochester Diocese - which stretches from Lake Ontario to the Pennsylvania border - use our wine. Certainly the Cathedral - Sacred Heart Cathedral, and the Bishop - use our wine."

Credit onehda.com

"Once every three years we are reviewed by the local Bishop and are granted a letter of approbation, which testifies to the integrity and liturgical fitness of the wine."

Ouweleen told WXXI that altar wine is not a big moneymaker. His customers are around the Northeast, in states such as Florida, and even Guam. The winery serves Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal and Lutheran churches.

"My family and I are the first to actually live on the property and actually work the vineyard and maintain our reputation and also the quality of the product."

It's the only thing on earth that - left to its own device - grapes turn into wine. So, it's proof positive that the creator exists and loves us - Will Ouweleen

The Ouweleen family continues the tradition of the Brothers of the Society of the Divine Word, who tended the grapes until the early 1980s. The Brothers kept to themselves, and Ouweleen says many neighbors were unaware of them.

"They don't even know the winery is here, 143 years later, because, it was a cloistered community, basically, of Christian brothers. People didn't often come to visit."

Now, the winery is open to the public, overlooking Hemlock Lake in the Livingston County town of Conesus. Ouweleen says he still uses 150 year old coopered-redwood and cypress barrels in what he calls a "working wine museum."

Ouweleen also operates a sister vineyard called Eagle Crest and also provided an assortment of wine to be served at dinner with the Pope.