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The sacred silence of the cellars

Society

Have you noticed how quiet it always is in a cellar?  Curiously, although wine is often associated with celebration and tasting discussions, maturing it requires an economy of words and softly uttered remarks. This could be why it is that according to popular tradition, the cellars were closed to women whose gossiping risked disturbing the peace that was to vital to wine’s transformation. This was of course an absurd belief and an archaic prejudice from our modern perspective (many of our modern cellar ‘masters’ are women and their sensitivity has without a doubt helped to rejuvenate the art of winemaking), but it highlights the extent to which wine does not tolerate turbulence or thunderous noise.  Treating it well requires restraint and a certain level of civility. How can we explain the need for this atmosphere of respect and discretion?  To understand it, we turn to the sacredness presiding over the production of this drink.

In effect, the cellar is the temple of wine. It is a place of prayer and reverence. This is where the spirits of wine are honoured, and all know how capricious they are. You have to be able to hear what they have to say, treat them with consideration, and comfort them when they need it. Why do you think Cistercian monks were winegrowing and winemaking pioneers? Why was it Sufi poets who were the best at singing about wine? Because there is something mystical and ascetic about wine maturation.  Because this act is like a form of worship. The silence that reigns in cellars is a prayer to the spirits of wine.

Christian Coulon, Anthropologist, professor of political science, IEP Bordeaux