This guest-post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles.
The monks of Saint Honorat pray in silence, live in harmony with nature…and make very good wine!
I am at the Cannes Film Festival, and before the fest-frenzy kicks in, I took the 20 minute boat ride to nearby St. Honorat. I took in the serenity of the tiny island, enjoyed a Mediterranean lunch at La Tonnelle restaurant and tasted the wines from Abbaye de Lérins – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Mourvédre.
I meet up with Father Marie who supervises the wine production. I had not seen him in ten years. At the time, he mentioned that production was so small, that their wines were available only on the French Riviera and in Paris. Now the production has reached a whopping 40,000 bottle and it’s available in Germany, Hong Kong, Canada and Japan. Marie is now on his way to Moscow to promote the wines. For generations the monks produced wine for their own consumption. Commercial production began in 1992.
Under the label of Abbaye de Lérins the monks produces three wines – Saint Salonius, a deep colored Pinot Noir with silky tannins and aromas of cherry and dried roses; Saint Lambert, a Mourvédre that is a riot of black fruits and sweet spices; and Saint Cesaire, the winery’s popular Chardonnay, redolent with tropical fruits.
Life has changed slowly on the island since 405 AD when Monk Honorat founded the monastery. Now it’s home to 25 monks, descendants of the Cisterians, who arrived here in 1869.
The miniscule island (you can encircle the whole area in one hour) is fragrant with pine, cyprus, eucalyptus and olive – groves of which surround 20 some acres of vines planted on clay limestone soil. During harvest the monks are up at 5 a.m. to work in the vineyards and are later joined by additional helpers.
The grapes enjoy the classic Mediterranean climate – long hot summer days followed by a layer of humidity at night. Large part of the substratum of the island is made up of dolomite dating back to early Jurassic period. These large rocks serve as gatekeepers of the island, resisting the onslaught of waves.
At La Tonnelle restaurant I noticed Rose d’ Lérins, which was my choice to accompany the tartine of warm goat cheese laced with honey, bruleéd to a light crisp and topped with walnuts. Perfect way to take in the age-old island cocooned in the Mediterranean.