It’s France, the middle of winter, it’s dark and there are hundreds of people milling around carrying banners, musical instruments and hip flasks. Every so often there is a rallying call on a trumpet. And then we are off, it is time to start the procession of St Vincent
Early in the middle ages each winemaking village in Burgundy had a mutual society to help winemakers through hard times due to ill health and poor harvests. Every year the supporters of that society would parade a small statue of St Vincent of Saragossa to bless and celebrate the start of the growing season. By the 20th century these ideas had declined but in 1938, after the devastating First World War, the Depression and failing harvests, the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (Brotherhood of the Knights of the Tastevin) wanted to bring all the villages of Burgundy together for a large celebration. Only only six villages participated in 1938, but by 1965 there were 53 and now there are nearly 100.
But why Saint Vincent of Saragossa? Saragossa is the ancient name for the modern Spanish city of Zaragoza. He is the patron saint of winemakers, the story goes that he used to travel around on his donkey, and while chatting to some vineyard workers, his donkey nibbled at some grapes on a vine. During that year’s harvest, the vines that had been nibbled by the donkey produced a better crop than the surrounding vines.
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So on 27th January 2017, my wife and I were stood on a grassy bank, wrapped up against the cold, watching the parade of nearly 100 statues of St Vincent, each carried by a group of winemakers, following the banner of the individual village. Meursault, Pommard, Gevrey Chambertin, Puligny-Montrachet……, the list is long. After every couple of statues there’s a band playing, everybody is dancing, singing and clapping and it is still only 9am. All the statues are heading for one place, the church at the centre of the village, to be blessed by the Bishop of Dijon. After a few speeches the St Vincent Tournante is declared open, and the festivities begin. In 2017 it was Mercurey’s turn to host the celebrations, the village has been busy throughout the previous 12 months creating thousands of paper flowers to decorate the whole village: - with further displays in people’s gardens and squares. As we wander around the village there are bands playing, food stalls selling Gougéres, Tartiflette, Boeuf Bourguignon and all sorts of food. Along the way the local winemakers have opened their doors and are serving a taste of the wines of the current vintage (As part of the entrance fee you get a tasting glass, several tasting vouchers and a map of the routes around the village). There are large marquees where you can have lunch and more places to taste wine. As wine festivals go this is relaxed and a quite chilled affair (It is January after all). The festivities go on all weekend, with restaurants packed in the evening and the lunch time marquees turning into discos.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t go this year due to the current situation, but they have only postponed it (The first time since the second world war) and so it will be the village of Puligny-Montrachet in 2022 to host the celebrations, now where is my BIG glass.
Wines to try
Cave Talmard Macon-Uchizy, 2019, £14.99
The village of Prisse, part of the Macon region, held the St Vincent Tournante in 2018. This wine is a great representation of the region. There are hints of floral aromas and peach, with a touch of almond. On the palate theres a little more stone fruits, apricot and peach but there is a clean fresh mineral finish. Great with seafood or baked goats cheese.
Domaine Theulot Juillot, Mercurey, 2018, £25.99
Mercurey held their St Vincent Tournante in 2017. This wine has concentrated aromas of red cherry and plum, with a note of woody spices. These are well represented on the palate,
red cherry and red plum flavours, and hints of vanilla
and a clean finish. A great
match with venison and game meats.