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City Winery's 'Vicar's Vintage' Used to Toast Religious Tolerance Downtown

By Julie Shapiro | November 4, 2010 2:43pm

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HUDSON SQUARE — The Rev. James Cooper stood over a barrel of kosher wine in City Winery Thursday morning and waved incense in the sign of a cross.

"In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," Cooper said, flanked by other officials from Trinity Church and Michael Dorf, City Winery’s Jewish owner.

With that, Cooper dedicated the two-year-old winery’s first barrel of "Vicar’s Vintage," a sacramental spirit that will be used during Communion at Trinity Church starting next year.

Dorf first joked about creating sacramental wine for Trinity Church when he was negotiating his winery’s lease with the church, which owns the Varick Street building.

But the joke turned serious earlier this year when Dorf and Cooper had a long discussion over a glass of wine about its significance in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

In both religions, drinking wine — whether during Communion as a symbol of Jesus’ blood or at a Passover Seder — "represents the full, real presence of God in our lives," Cooper said. "Wine also symbolizes social interaction."

Dorf said he agreed to make the barrel of Vicar’s Vintage not just to cement the landlord-tenant relationship between Trinity and City Winery, but also to highlight the interfaith connections.

"Anything that can be done to not have people get too dogmatic about their own thing," said Dorf, who describes himself as a universalist. "I wish the Palestinians and Israelis would get together and drink more wine."

The journey of Vicar’s Vintage started on Sept. 21, when Orthodox Jews at City Winery supervised the crushing of Sauvignon Blanc grapes from a Long Island vineyard. The juice was filtered two days later and has been fermenting since.

Dorf broke the Orthodox Union seal on the barrel, which marked it as kosher, on Thursday. Then he and Cooper poured grape spirits into the barrel, kicking up the alcohol content from 10 percent to 16 or 17 percent. Sacramental wine is often fortified with extra alcohol to make the shared Communion cup more hygienic, Cooper said.

Now, the wine needs to age for six to 12 months and will be ready for either Easter or Christmas 2011. If Trinity uses it regularly, it will last for about a year, Cooper said.

Dorf said he was pleased that the collaboration would send a message about religious tolerance and cooperation that contrasts the recent discord over the Park51 mosque and community center near Ground Zero.

"This is something we can do downtown to show that people can work together," he said.