Saturday, 12 February 2011

Thanksgiving for the Wine

Saint Vincent of Saragossa is the patron saint of winemakers and his day is 22nd January, he is BIG in Burgundy. His day has been celebrated since the middle ages but for some reason the celebrations gradually dwindled in popularity in the late 19th early 20th centuries. In 1938 la Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Wine-Tasting Cup) an exclusive Burgundian club for wine connoisseurs decide to revive the tradition. Amongst the aims of their club are:
"To hold in high regard and encourage the use of the products of Burgundy, particularly her great wines and her regional cuisine. To maintain and revive the festivities, customs and traditions of Burgundian folklore".
So thus began La Saint Vincent Tournante. One town in Burgundy is chosen to have the official Saint Vincent party each year, this choice rotates around the great winemaking areas and around the Départements of Burgundy. This year was the turn the Département of Yonne and the Chablis wine area.

But not to miss out on the fun, this area also has its own mini St Vincent Tournante covering 12 villages in the South Chalonnais and North Maconnais winegrowing areas. This year it was to be held in St Ythaire, a village that some friends live in and we have been hearing about the preparations from them for ages. Every Thursday evening since late November they have been making paper flowers. Not just one evening but probably about 10 evenings with the whole village involved. Countless thousands of flowers have been made. Each evening was dedicated to a different flower. Some roses, carnations, daffodils, tulips, wisteria, forsythia, apple blossom, you name it they made it. These flowers were finally used on the weekend of 5th/6th February to decorate the village in preparation for the parade on Sunday morning which we were to attend.

We arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed at 09.30 to find loads of people sampling the local produce. Some where dressed in medieval outfits, some in brightly coloured cloaks and funny hats and then there were the rest of us, dressed suitably against the cold. We set off up the hill for the 15 minute walk to the church with a horse and cart carrying barrels of wine in front of the parade. Each village had their own banner and small statue of Saint Vincent that two men carried on a carrier balanced on their shoulders. It was quite a site as the parade wound its way through the vineyards past hedgerows full of a dazzling array of very realistic paper flowers.

The church was packed leaving standing room only for those at the back of the parade, we fortunately managed to get a pew not realising that we were right by the hunting horns which were to herald the start and finish of the service. They nearly blasted us out through the stained glass windows! (The photo shows how close we were). The parade then continued on to the war memorial where a wreath was laid, I won’t mention the rendition of La Marsaillaise, suffice to say it was very memorable mostly by not really resembling the national anthem – must be all that wine so early in the morning. Then of course on to the Town Hall for more wine and nibbles.

Ah but you can’t just stop there - no the day has only just begun. Everyone jumped into their cars and off to Saint Gengoux le National for lunch. What a lunch !

Pâté de canard avec son foie gras, dôme de sole, queues d’écrevisse sauce du chef avec riz et fleuron, trou Bourguignon, souris de cerf braisé, fromages plateau, mignardises, café. Roughly translated as heavenly food presented beautifully with a different wine for each course all exquisitely matching the flavours of the different dishes and everything efficiently served to 220 people simultaneously. What an organisation!

There were speeches and awards, new Knights were named and each was duly knighted by using a huge corkscrew in place of a sword. By 19.00 the coffee had arrived (don't forget this was a lunch!) and the dancing had begun, at that point we beat a tired retreat back home and left the revellers to it, we heard later that they carried on until midnight when they had soupe à l’oignon and then they carried on some more until the early hours by which time this pair of wimpish foreigners were long in bed!

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