The christening of a ship occurs at the launch of a new vessel into the waters of the world. Over thousands of years, ship christenings have used blood, red wine, and Champagne to protect the travelers and contents from the perils of a voyage made dangerous by acts of nature and structural malfunction. How, through all these years, did fermented grape juice became the offering of choice? Why do we continue this practice today? An investigation into ritual, tradition, and early maritime transport reveals an interwoven key to wine’s transition from everyday beverage to sacred juice.
SUPERSTITION & CHAMPAGNE
The tradition of ship christenings we are most familiar with involves the smashing of a bottle of Champagne against the hull of a great ship before it’s first departure to sea. There are stories dating back to the first steamships about the ill fated journeys of ships that do not go through this practice of superstition.
GRAPE: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier
LOCATION: Champagne, France
STYLE & STRUCTURE: Fizzy dry wine made using the traditional method
RITUAL & LIMNIO
In ancient Greece, sea travel was so dangerous that it never began without an offering to the Olympic Gods for safe passage. These gifts to the sea were initially the blood of sacrificed animals (and occasionally humans). Transitioning from a living specimen to a revered elixir, the red wine of Lemnos became the new sacrament used in libations, or a short pouring of wine onto the deck of the ship.
LOCATION: Limnos, Greece
STYLE & STRUCTURE: An herbaceous dry red wine with red berry fruit
VALUE & MONASTRELL
To understand how wine gained a holy status, we look to Phoenician trade and transport. The Phoenicians are the first to ship wine, spreading grapes and knowledge of production, giving wine value as tastes and styles develop between cultures. For example, the grape Monastrell of eastern Spain can be linked to Phoenician trading throughout the Mediterranean around 500 BCE.
LOCATION: Catalonia, Spain
STYLE & STRUCTURE: A heat-loving, dark-skinned variety producing full bodied spicy red wine