Have you seen the news about the new wine fountain in Italy? It lies in a village along the Cammino di San Tommaso (oh my, another pilgrimage route to explore…and this one with Italian food!) and it inspired, in part, by its more famous pilgrim cousin, the Irache wine fountain along the Camino de Santiago.
The wine fountain is one of those things you hear about from other pilgrims, and that’s mentioned in all the books. I knew it was coming, but I was still surprised when we came across it just after eight o’clock in the morning. (It’s just a few kilometers past Estella, where we’d stayed the night before.)
Although we met plenty of pilgrims who enjoyed a beer with their desayuno, but in general, we saved our alcohol for the end of the day. Or, you know, at least until ten.
However, this was THE wine fountain. The wine of the Monastery of Nuestra Senora la Real de Irache has been part of the Camino experience since the twelfth century, when the Codex Calixtinus refers to Estella as the “land of Good Bread and Optimal Wine.” It was our sacred duty to support the history and culture of the pilgrimage.
Because hey, you don’t see the Appalachian Trail setting up free moonshine stills.
Still, though. With all the hype and history, I think that I expected “the wine fountain” to be a grotto in some ancient stone building with a freely flowing…well, fountain of wine.
Instead, we got a modern tap in the wall of a concrete wine warehouse.
The current free fountain has existed only since 1991, and is run by a collection of local wineries. There’s a gate that’s locked overnight, and a webcam that broadcasts during the open hours, and I expect creates some social pressure not to overindulge. (There are also signs explaining that the foundation is not unlimited; only a certain amount of wine is provided each day.)
So it’s a marketing ploy or an homage to the long history of service to pilgrims that the monastery offered. Either way, of course we stopped, along with most of the other pilgrims we saw that day. Some used their scallop shells for a more “authentic” sip of wine. Eric and I stayed practical and used a water bottle.
The sign beside the fountain reads:
Pilgrim, if you wish to arrive at Santiago full of strength and vitality, have a drink of this great wine and make a toast to happiness.
I’ll drink to that.