Blood from a Stone

Reviewed by:

Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Blood from a Stone: A Memoir of How Wine Brought Me Back from the Dead


Adam McHugh


InterVarsity Press

Publication Date:

October 11, 2022




264 pages


Wine began as a way for Adam McHugh to escape, but not how you think. McHugh was a hospice chaplain, increasingly aware that his job no longer fit him. Somewhere along the line, he began reading specialty wine magazines and winemaking’s history. When he lost his job, he took the vacation trip he’d already planned: the wineries of France. During his trip, McHugh began to realize something. First, there is some science behind winemaking, but it is a surprising process. Like faith, winemaking is filled with beauty coming from pain. Second, winemaking’s history shows how wine can be abused but is still something good. Making wine has always been tied to civilization, from the Romans planting vineyards wherever they conquered to the Spanish colonialists bringing wine grapes to California. Wine was something that Jesus cared about, not only creating wine at the wedding of Cana but creating the best stuff (and since non-fermented grape juice didn’t exist until the 1800s, it was real wine). McHugh describes his surprising journey as he learned to grieve leaving the ministry, while starting a new career in wine. His story about learning his new trade is filled with things he learns about winemaking’s local history, from France’s Provence vineyards to California’s Santa Ynez Valley.

McHugh states in his acknowledgments that he wasn’t sure when his editor suggested this as a book for InterVarsity Press. Blood from a Stone may not fit the Christian living side of IVP’s catalog, but they also publish memoirs, and like IVP’s A Prayer for Orion, this is a memoir in the fullest sense. There are spiritual lessons, but McHugh also dives into his emotions and the places he visited. He doesn’t just tell you a little about winemaking: he enchants you with the history of how different soils, weather, and geology inform what makes a good wine. When McHugh talks about how the Santa Ynez Valley unexpectedly proved to be a wonderful place for making Provence-style wines, he gives enough details to impress any historian, all in a writing style that makes them vivid and fun.

Along with delivering a great memoir, McHugh delivers a surprisingly topical book. As many American evangelicals are rediscovering high church traditions, past concerns about drinking wine have loosened. Ten years ago, few evangelicals would admit they drank wine or beer. Today, young ministry leaders can meet at craft breweries without anyone finding it odd. McHugh’s careful explanation of how winemaking is beautiful—something Christians can learn and embrace—arrives at an apt time. Granted, someone will have to round out the discussion with a counter-perspective on enjoying wine responsibly while creating sensitive spaces for alcoholics. McHugh wisely leaves the door open for that conversation, never denying the danger of misusing alcohol.

McHugh’s discussion about the winemaking lifestyle also proves topical. He shows how winemaking requires embracing some mystery and learning to love the land that makes good wine possible. As he describes how he became a wine specialist who also helps grow and harvest grapes for a winery, he talks about wanting to get “dirt under his fingers,” taking part in the work that makes the product. These passages resemble Wendell’s Berry advice about living close to the land, choosing hands-on work that grows workers in unexpected ways. They also resemble James K.A. Smith’s ideas about pursuing life-giving habits in You Are What You Love. Hence, McHugh joins the growing crowd of Christian writers arguing that head knowledge is enough; habits shape people, and there are good reasons to live holistically.

Lastly, McHugh delivers an honest look at ministry burnout. He discusses how hospice chaplaincy work had blessed moments but left him ragged. He captures a familiar pain as he talks about figuring out his identity once he’d left the ministry. As terms like “compassion fatigue,” “ministry crisis,” and “burnout” have become more common, many working in professional ministry have opened up about how costly their work can be. Books like Scotty Smith’s Searching for Grace have considered what ministers can do to live healthily before a crisis happens. McHugh dives into what happens when a minister realizes the vocation was only meant for a season and the relief of realizing God still uses people in “secular” contexts. His story is unique. There probably won’t be a series of books about ministers-turned-sommeliers. Still, McHugh gives some universal insights on ministry struggles, grieving when a ministry job ends, and realizing there is life after ministry.

All in all, Blood from Stone proves to be a witty, enchanting memoir with some great insights, insights that will appeal even to people who aren’t wine lovers.


Rating (1 to 5 stars):

Five stars

Suggested Audience:

Christians interested in winemaking’s history or a unique story about career changes and ministerial struggles.

Christian Impact:

McHugh provides a great portrait of his life as a hospice chaplain, its mix of grief and grace. Portions of it, especially his description of working the night shift, read like Joe Connelly’s novel Bringing Out the Dead (inspired by real experiences as a paramedic). Both books are about the strangeness of working a night shift job that requires facing death all the time, entering thin places where despair and grace touch. McHugh’s discussion about how transitioning out of ministry (the pain of letting the minister label go, the realization one must grieve an ending before embarking on a new beginning) is equally fascinating.

Blood From a Stone: A Memoir of How Wine Brought Me Back from the Dead

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