John May: Teetotaller winemaking Jesuit brother honoured by the Queen

Br John May SJ

A Jesuit with a nose for a good wine was the toast of one of South Australia’s heavenly vineyard regions recently when the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours were announced.

Br John May, winemaker emeritus at the Jesuits’ Sevenhill Cellars in the Clare Valley, was admitted as a member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM) in recognition of his significant service to winemaking, through contributions to professional associations, to regional tourism and to the Catholic Church in Australia.

Br John, who came to Sevenhill and the Clare Valley in 1963, said he was “deeply honoured” by the award.

A teetotaller when the Jesuits first assigned him to Sevenhill, Br John developed a taste for fine wine that helped the winery produce a line of medal winners over the years.

Asked which wine he had to toast his Queen’s Birthday honour, Br John said he “didn’t do a great deal about” the announcement.

“We had some ‘bubbles’ – a Jansz sparkling wine,” he said. “We did have a drink of St Ignatius which is our flagship red wine – I planted the grapes to make it.

“The first release (of the wine) was in 1991, celebrating the 500th anniversary of the birth of St Ignatius (founder of the Jesuits).”

Br John said “we are all given gifts by God” and, when he was sent to Sevenhill, his commitment was “to exercise all my talents for the greater glory of God”.

“Being a Jesuit, our motto Ad majorem Dei gloriam (For the greater glory of God) has been my guiding light,” he said.

“Having devoted my life to the Lord, I do not expect to be honoured for my work which, for me, has always had its own rewards.”

The talents he was expecting to be using at Sevenhill included his skills in building, welding and construction work but a new talent blossomed.

Br John’s first vintage at Sevenhill in 1963 came soon after he arrived from Melbourne as a young Jesuit Brother to work as an assistant to the then winemaker Br John Hanlon.

“I was sent there as understudy to my predecessor, and spent seven years learning from him,” he said.

“In 1972, he died suddenly and I became winemaker overnight.

“It was bit of a shock (but) I had a good memory and had made a lot of notes (working with Br Hanlon).” Continue reading

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