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Local winery to make and sell valid altar wine

By MICHELLE DELANEY, Globe staff reporter

After years in the making, the first installment of altar wine was presented to Bishop Walker Nickless by John Guinan and Sister Marie Hesed.

John Guinan and his family established the Santa Maria Vineyard and Winery in 2005. This vineyard is located next to St. Mary Church in Willey and the winery is in Carroll. While taking classes to complete his master’s degree in theology, John started thinking about making valid altar wine.

“It hit me; it’d really be neat to make sacramental wine,” said Guinan. “Doing anything that would wind up turning into the body and blood of Christ, what a wonderful pursuit that would be.”

So, he started researching the process of making valid altar wine. To his dismay, there was not a lot of information out there. He searched the web, called a Canon lawyer and called altar wine companies all with no luck.

Finally, he came into contact with Brother Peterson, an archivist in the Jesuit community at Los Gatos in California. Brother Peterson helped Guinan find an article written in 1963 by a theologian and winemaker who explained the process and rules of making altar wine. He also found documentation from 1937, which after being translated, helped explain the process.

Since Guinan had such trouble finding the information needed to make altar wine, he decided he would create a website to act as a central site for the information he had gathered. That website, www.validaltarwine.com, makes the articles available to all. It also gives information on the altar wine he makes and how to buy it.

“It’s quite a bit more involved than you would normally think,” said Guinan.

“The tricky thing about altar wine is it can’t have any additives. It has to be pure grape juice and it has to be between 7 percent and 18 percent alcohol,” explains Bishop Nickless.

With there being thousands of additives you can add to wine to adjust the flavor, taste and alcohol content, excluding everything proved to be a hard task. Sugar, unfermented juice, anything with high fructose corn syrup and even oak barrels couldn’t be used.

If there are any impurities in the wine then the Mass will be invalid.

“It’s a real serious ordeal,” notes Guinan.

After quite some time taking care of the technicalities, the Santa Maria Winery has two valid altar wines ready for sale. They offer a Cabernet Sauvigon and a Frontenac/Muscat wine.

Both of these wines have been given an ecclesial approbation from Bishop Nickless.

Right now, they are selling their wine to the Sioux City Diocese with no extra charge for delivery of two cases or more. They are also authorized to sell it in 14 different states. Only clergy and churches can buy the wine.

Soon they will be working on expanding their reach to other dioceses in Iowa.

Along with providing locally made wine in the diocese, the altar wine also aids the Sisters of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) and their retreat house in Carroll.

Years before everything took off with the winery, Michelle, John Guinan’s daughter was in New Mexico working with the SOLT Sisters. He came down and helped in rebuilding a house for the religious society. While talking to the sisters he mentioned his desire to start a vineyard and make sacramental wine.

Guinan was asked if he would be willing to allow the sisters to be a part of the process and he agreed. Sister Hesed contacted Guinan years later asking if he would still be willing to allow her to come and work with the altar wine.

“The SOLT society has permitted me to try to bring to birth, a desire in my heart that I’ve had for many years, a contemplative center of renewal for those in the ministry and mission,” said Sister Hesed.

“Sister wanted to come and build this retreat house in Carroll where people from all over the country and all over the world, could come rest, rejuvenate and refocus,” said Bishop Nickless.

Sister Hesed will be taking care of the emails that will be coming in regarding the valid altar wine and she will be in charge of the packaging and shipping. She will also be working on contacting the priests and parishes and telling the story of the wine and how buying it will help a good cause. Half of the proceeds will go towards the sisters and their site.

“I am very excited. It’s almost like proof that God wants us here and that we came at the right time,” said Sister Hesed.

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