A Touch of Spain

By Melissa Wynn

Photos courtesy of the Abbey of New Clairvaux

In the small town of Vina at 26240 7th Street lies an amazing spiritual and historical place, The Abbey Of New Clairvaux. Founded in 1955 and home to a group of Trappist  Cistercian monks, this rural monastery includes a stunning, reconstructed Church that was originally built in the 12th century as part of the Cistercian Monastery of Santa Maria de Olivia in the town of Trillo just north of Madrid in Spain.

In 1931 media mogul William Randolph Hearst purchased the long abandoned and deteriorating house of worship and had it carefully dismantled. Hearst shipped the numbered and crated stones to San Francisco where they resided in Golden Gate Park until Father Thomas Davis, former Abbot of the Abbey Of New Clairvaux, obtained them in 1994 as a generous donation from the city.

Monks in church from Spain

After several years of fundraising, the project of reconstructing the ancient building, dubbed the Sacred Stone Project, began under the watchful and talented eye of Master Stonemason and Sculptor Frank Helmholz. The careful numbering had long worn away so he started from scratch using old photos of the original building as a base reference. Years of painstaking work restoring and piecing together the original stones, with new ones when necessary, brought new life to the ancient building that now offers a place of sanctuary and worship to a second group of Cistercian monks and their guests some eight hundred years later.

Visitors are welcome daily from 6am to 8pm. A quick stop at the Welcome Center upon arrival offers the best chance to learn more about the project and the life of the monks as well.

The monks hold prayer services several times throughout the day and visitors are welcome to attend, daily schedules are posted online. Guided tours can be scheduled by calling the Development Department at 530.839.9936.

Spiritual retreats are available by reservation and can vary in length from a single day of reflection to an extended stay lasting several weeks. Interested parties can request reservations by phone or online at https://www.newclairvaux.org/visit.

While visiting the Abbey Of New Clairvaux be sure to stop in at the on-site winery. Another link to Spain, the Vina area mirrors the climate of some of their most famous grape growing regions. California pioneer Peter Lassen was the first to recognize this. He also appreciated the famous “Vina Loam”  soil for what it was and established a one acre vineyard on the very land that now houses the Abbey around 1846. He sold the land in 1852 to Henry Gerke, the founder of the town of Vina. Gerke expanded the vineyards to 100 acres and sold his wines globally. The land sold again in 1881 to California Governor Leland Stanford who expanded the ranch to 55,000 acres and established the largest wine making operation, of the day, in the world, producing over two million gallons annually. In 1955 the monks purchased the heart of that ranch, nearly 600 acres that make up the grounds of the Abbey today.

Monk in the vineyard. Vina CA

In the year 2000 the Trappist monks of the Abbey began a partnership with the Sunseri Family, and wine making returned to grounds. Aimee Sunseri received her degree from UC Davis’s renowned school of Viticulture and Enology making her a fifth-generation wine maker. Aimee comes from deep roots in the Napa wine industry and is the current Head Wine Maker at the New Clairvaux winery. Several of the delicious wines at New Clairvaux bear her name. Two local vineyards supply the winery with 12 varieties of grapes, the 10 acre St. James block located at the Abbey Of New Clairvaux and the Poor Souls block nearby at Sunseri Ranch. Winning several national and international awards for their wines has proven the success of this continuing partnership.

Aimee at new Clairvaux Winery

The wine tasting room is open daily from 11am-5pm and New Clairvaux wines and merchandise can also be purchased online at  www.newclairvauxvineyard.com.

Whether you visit for to attend Mass, need a retreat for spiritual reasons, are interested in becoming a monk, enjoy wine tasting or are just plain curious and want to see the stunning new Church from the 12th century, take the time to drop in at the Abbey Of New Clairvaux and experience a taste of Spain.