Monday, March 5, 2012

Wine Today, Saint Tomorrow?

This will shock Arizona conservatives, but one of the two prominent people representing the state at the U.S. Capitol looks to be an illegal immigrant. We're not talking of either of Arizona's U.S. Senators, but of one of the state's two sculptures in the National Statuary Hall.

That would be the statue of Eusebio Francisco Kino, a Jesuit missionary of such humanity and zeal that Vatican officials are considering him for sainthood.

I was introduced to Eusebio Francisco Kino through wine, but not altar wine, though I suppose it could be. Rather, "Padre Kino" is a brand of Industrias Vinicolas Pedro Domecq, a scattering of Mexican vineyards and wineries with headquarters in Mexico City. Under "Padre Kino," Domecq releases two wines, a Vino Blanco and a Vino Tinto. They're packaged in one-liter clear-glass carafes with a pop-off lid. Rare is the supermarket in Mexico that doesn't stock both the white and the red. They customarily sell for no more than 44 pesos per liter, or about $3.50 in U.S. currency at the current rate of exchange. They reputedly are Mexico's most popular wines, though I've been unable to verify that.

Stylistically, "Padre Kino" wines aren't far removed from the simple everyday jug wines that emerged from California's San Joaquin Valley early in the evolution of the state's wine trade. They're viscous, sweet and fresh. The white is a touch floral and peachy. The red is the more interesting of the two, with a note of spiciness to provide its only fetching complication. Their labels suggest they be served chilled, and used as the foundation for sangria.

What the original Padre Kino would think of the wines is anybody's guess. He was accomplished in many disciplines, including cartography, exploration, horsemanship, astronomy, ranching and writing, but he seems not to have had much of a hand in tending vineyards and making wines. He's recognized mostly, however, for building missions in Baja California and the Pimeria Alta, the vast region that includes the upper portion of the northern Mexican state of Sonora and the lower portion of the state of Arizona. Missions, of course, were instrumental in cultivating an appreciation for wine during the West's development.

In 1965, U.S. and Arizona officials dedicated a statue to Padre Kino at the Capitol. At that time, Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall praised Padre Kino as a missionary who "came not to conquer, but to build." Another speaker on that day, the Rev. Ernest J. Burrus, head of the Historical Institute of the Jesuit Fathers, noted that Eusebio Kino, born in 1645 at Segno in the Tyrolese Alps, sought passage to the New World from Spain in early 1681. When Kino found that the quota for foreigners already was filled, he performed what may have been his first miracle: "His name was changed from Eusebio Kino to Eusebio Chavez, his birthplace was altered from Segno, Italy, to Cordoba in Spain, and Kino was on his way to the New World, which he reached at Veracruz, Mexico" that spring, said the Rev. Burrus.

Vatican stamp honors Padre Kino
While that might sound like a fishy way to emigrate, nobody holds Kino's sleight-of-hand against him today. To the contrary, his stature only seems to be growing. Throughout the Southwest and in northern Mexico he's celebrated in songs, stamps, statues and even a symphony. The Kino Border Institute is a group of Jesuit brothers who provide humanitarian aid to migrants deported to Mexico with little more than the clothes on their back. The Kino Heritage Society of Tucson maintains a store where it sells statues and books inspired by the padre, but not wine. The puebla Magdalena, where Padre Kino died on March 15, 1711, was renamed Magdalena de Kino in 1989. And in 2006, proponents of the canonization of Padre Kino delivered 67 kilos of documents to the Vatican detailing his good works, which included brokering peace between warring Indian tribes and gaining for indigenous peoples of the Pimeria Alta immunity from compulsory labor at Spanish mines and haciendas. If I were a Mexican or Arizonian vintner, I'd be seeking to trademark the brand "Saint Kino."

1 comment:

  1. Mike: Excellent historical piece. Really enjoyed the article!