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A Jesuit novice works in the vineyards surrounding the Jesuit novitiate in Los Gatos, Calif., in 1965. Photos courtesy of the California Province Jesuit Archives.
"The first hour you'd pick the grapes in silence, while you prayed."
—Jesuit Bishop Michael Barber
For Almost a Century, Jesuit Novices Labored at Historic Novitiate Winery

October 2, 2013 — Jesuit novices at the Sacred Heart Novitiate in Los Gatos, Calif., not only lived and prayed together, but they also worked together in the vineyards surrounding the novitiate from 1888 to 1986.

The Novitiate Winery was built by the Jesuits from Santa Clara College (now Santa Clara University), and each fall, the novices would harvest grapes for the winery. At one time, they picked enough fruit to produce 150,000 gallons of wine each year. 

Although some wine was sold commercially, the majority of it, especially during Prohibition, was altar wine used for sacramental purposes. The Novitiate Winery was best known for its fortified Black Muscat dessert wine, which was a perennial gold medal winner at the California State Fair.

Due to the competetive marketplace, the winery closed in 1986, and the novitiate has since moved to Culver City, Calif., but memories remain. Photographer Margaret Bourke-White captured the novices in action in 1953, and her photos of Jesuit novices picking grapes in cassocks were published in Life magazine and in her book, “A Report on the American Jesuits.” In more recent years, Jesuit Bishop Michael Barber picked grapes as a novice and recalled his time in the vineyards:

"We loved it. It was eight hours of hard manual labor every day. Some of us were city boys — we mowed the lawn, you helped your dad build a fence — but I'd never done that. … They put our whole class, all 25 guys, in the back of the truck, wearing our denim, and drove up into the fields … We'd pick the grapes. It's where we got to know each other. The first hour you'd pick the grapes in silence, while you prayed. … They'd blow a whistle and then you could talk the rest of the day. We took our lunch there, sitting on the vines with views of the Bay Area." 

In 2005, Testarossa Vineyards reopened the winery and brought back the Novitiate label, which graced the original bottles. A portion of the sale of these wines are donated to the California Province’s retirement facility at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center. [California ProvinceTestarossa Winery]

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