Evoking thoughts of an early California castle with its striking edifice prominently visible from various vantage points along Redwood Road in Napa, the Mont La Salle chapel and its companion buildings are the setting for the serenity of the Christian Brothers retreat.
Nestled in the Mt. Veeder area, this Napa Valley icon was designed nearly 90 years ago to tend to two types of spirits—the development and growth of the human spirit and its faith, as well as the production of wines.
The current site of the retreat is a portion of its former Mt. Veeder property. At one time, it also included what is now the Hess Collection Winery. Decades before the Christian Brothers established their Mont La Salle campus, this vineyard and winery estate had been established around 1903 by a German immigrant named Theodore Gier (pronounced like the word “gear.”)
During Prohibition, Gier managed to get himself into a lot of trouble with the law and its enforcers. For instance, he tried to transport his wine, which was illegal. As a result, among a number of other issues, the Gier wine estate was listed for sale.
At that time, the Brothers of the Christian Schools, or the Christian Brothers, were looking for a suitable location to replace their existing circa 1879 California monastery in Martinez. According to an historical account, the Christian Brothers were looking for a new location because the rapidly growing town of Martinez was encroaching on the serenity and privacy of the monastery.
The Christian Brothers found the Mt. Veeder estate to be a suitable location for a new religious institution. The order purchased the former Gier wine estate in May 1930. The property included a stone winery, 100,000 gallons of fine, aged wine and well maintained vineyards.
With that real estate transaction successfully completed, the Christian Brothers set out to construct the buildings needed to accommodate their intended use for the property — a novitiate, or religious training, school. The original campus included the chapel, school and dormitory. These buildings were completed in April 1932. The Christian Brothers also renamed the property Mont La Salle in honor of the founder of their Order.
While these buildings were literally on the drawing board, the Christian Brothers began their Napa Valley viticultural history. In 1930, they harvested grapes from their newly purchased vineyards for their first Napa Valley crush.
One Brother, in particular, would become the keystone of the order’s Napa Valley wines, and it all began for Brother Timothy when he helped with that harvest. Eventually, through his diligent endeavors, Brother Timothy became a respected and beloved figure synonymous with Christian Brothers wines. Regarding Brother Timothy, the late William Heintz, the original wine historian, said, “He did much to put Napa Valley securely on the world wine map.”
The Christian Brothers were one of the first local winemakers to consistently use commercial yeast to make their wines. Then, in 1968, the Christian Brothers achieved another first when purchased a mechanical grape harvester.
Over the decades, Christian Brothers produced a number of different types of wines, many being award and medal winners. For example, in the 1950s they began making sparkling wine using the Charmat method. They also produced brandy. One of their most popular and commercially successful wines was named in honor of their Mt. Veeder property, “Chateau La Salle.”
Then, after more than 50 years of wine-making in Napa Valley and faced with significant financial issues, the Christian Brothers agreed to a long-term lease of their Mont La Salle vineyards and Gier winery with Donald Hess. However, the Christian Brothers continue to maintain ownership of their Mont La Salle property and campus.
The Christian Brothers retreat and permits public use and its dormitory still provides housing for retired brothers. Also, they open their chapel to the public for special holiday services.
Although retired from the world of making wine and spirits, the Christian Brothers Mont La Salle monastery continues to tend to the human spirit.
Email Rebecca Yerger at email@example.com.
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