Wine and the People of God

The Soul of Wine: Savoring the Goodness of God | Gisela H. Kreglinger | InterVarsity Press

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Until Thomas Bramwell Welch began doing funny things to the juice of crushed grapes in 1869, mankind had only ever produced one beverage from the grape. It is no mere coincidence that Welch was a teetotaler and that the centrality of wine in the life and religious practice of many Christians has been on the decline since that same unlucky year. Born to a family of vintners, Gisela Kreglinger, whose book The Soul of Wine came out late last year, became a theologian—“a vocation with a similar feel”—determined to marry those two disciplines and roll back the harm done to wine and the common man’s perception of wine.

For the reader anxious about the moral stigma attached to wine and other spirited beverages, The Soul of Wine is a lucid, apologetical exposition of Christian scripture and tradition. Wine, Kreglinger explains, occupies such a comprehensive place in the history of God’s people and the life of our Lord that it is clearly a thing loved by God and given to man as a good gift. It follows, then, that wine should be enjoyed (within the bounds of virtue) without fear or shame but with thankfulness and joy.

For the reader acquainted and at ease with the pleasures of wine, the book is an invitation to deeper enjoyment—beyond the doctor-recommended glass with dinner, beyond the right red/white pairings, beyond—or, perhaps, further into—the Sunday sacrament. Chapters in the back half of the book range from the predictable “Convivial Celebrations” to the gratifying “Awakening the Muse” and the satisfyingly frank “Wine, Sex, and God.” Whether she is counseling bigger pours at your next party, urging you to do more writing and creating with glass-in-hand, or tactfully outlining wine’s more amorous applications, Kreglinger always grounds herself in tradition. She may seem to push the envelope on a number of subjects, but in every case, she is merely lobbying for time-honored understandings of wine that have only lately been lost.

At the heart of Kreglinger’s project, though, is a more philosophical recovery, and a challenge to wine lover and teetotaler alike—a challenge for modern man more generally. Aristotle gives us four categories (or  “causes”) for thinking about all created things: what they’re made of, the pattern after which they’re made, how they’re made, and the purpose for which they’re made. Considerations of that last item are confused or obliterated by the materialism of the modern age, and the “purpose” of a thing is reduced to the arbitrary use we put it to. Kreglinger contends, instead, that wine exists for a singular purpose wholly apart from our opinions and preferences. Wine’s purpose, she cheerfully but firmly concludes, is born in the intentions of the God who created it, and that purpose is entangled in the central mysteries of reality—the central mysteries of reality’s redemption. We can embrace or reject it, but we have no say in the definition of that purpose; it is a universal reality.

Once she has put the headier issues to rest, Kreglinger concludes with several appendices offering practical tips for tasting and savoring wine, as well as discussing it in group settings. This seems a good and natural ordering of affairs: understanding precedes enjoyment but it must ultimately lead to it. Wine is just one of so many divisive objects that we tend to write off because it promises sensual pleasures or value only for those sensual pleasures. In truth, however, to know and honor the soul of a thing—its God-given purpose—is the only perfect guard against unlawful pleasures and the only perfect recipe for lawful ones. I believe that I might understand; I understand that I might taste and enjoy.

Sean Johnson is an editor of the FORMA Journal and the FORMA Review. He teaches humanities at Veritas School in Richmond, VA.