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Bourgogne en Fête
One of the plus factors of living and working in Burgundy is the number of wine festivals that take place through the year. Lynne Hammond looks at two of the major celebrations, the St Vincent Festival and the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction. Plus, the celebrated Percèe du Vin Jaune in Franche-Comté
Tending the vines might look romantic but the winegrowers work extremely hard – long hours, hard and physical work so when they relax, they really know how to enjoy themselves.
Festival of St. Vincent
In January, we celebrate the Festival of St.Vincent. Imagine walking into a village that is a kaleidoscope of colour – roses are in flower, bedding plants a cascade of colour and shrubs in leaf. Your first thought is that your eyes must be deceiving you because the colours are of summer but the temperature is zero at best and it’s either snowing or just about to start!
But it’s true because the flowers and colours are produced from paper. Literally thousands of intricate, realistic flowers turning winter into summer and produced by the women-folk of the village throughout the year.
St Vincent is the patron saint of winegrowers and each year a Festival is organised by the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (the brotherhood of Burgundy winegrowers) on the first Saturday after 22nd January – the feast day of St Vincent.
The ceremony takes place in different winegrowing villages each year and in one or other of Burgundy’s winegrowing districts.
The Saturday begins early in the morning with a procession of members of the Confrérie and local winegrowers to attend a mass attended by the Grand Council of the Order. Following the mass the assembled group attend the Extraordinary Chapter of the brotherhood to honour the President for the St Vincent village of that year.
St Vincent celebrations attract tens of thousands of people over the weekend – you buy a specially designed commemorative glass for about 10 Euros and then tour the village where local winegrowers have opened their cellars for wine tasting, and join in the fun.
In addition special dinners are organised along with street entertainment and street food to help soak up the wine.
The Saint-Vincent festival will take place in Vézelay, January 26-27, 2019.
Beaune Wine Auction
Fast forward through the year to the third weekend in November and we have the “Les Trois Glorieuses” or the three glorious days.
The three days are centred on the Hospice de Beaune wine auction, which is the oldest and most traditional wine auction in the world. It dates from 1859 when 189 barrels of fine Burgundy wine were sold. Even if you are not interested in the auction, there is a great atmosphere in the town and plenty for everyone to enjoy.
The weekend, though, starts with a street festival in Beaune and an open house in the cellars where it is possible to taste the latest vintages. The Fête des Grands Vins de Bourgogne, is held at the Palais des Congrès in Beaune throughout the weekend. On the Saturday afternoon there is also a half-marathon race through the vineyards surrounding Beaune.
Sunday dawns to the world-famous wine auction of the new harvest held in the Hospice or Hôtel-Dieu. The Hôtel-Dieu was founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, then Chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy as a home for poor invalids.
In 1971 President Pompidou inaugurated a new modern hospital and the Hôtel Dieu then became a museum. The courtyard with its Burgundy style glazed tiles is a sight to literally take the breath away while the building itself contains the hospital wards retained in their original, ancient state plus a superb collection of priceless treasures.
The Hospices' vineyards of some 60 hectares are scattered through the principal appellations of the Côte de Beaune and a small area of the Côte de Nuits.
The auction brings in over 5 million euros per year and a proportion of the sale value still goes towards the care of the sick and modernising and maintaining the modern hospital in Beaune. Launched by Bourgogne négociant Albert Bichot in 2009, www.hospices-beaune.com enables wine lovers around the world to purchase online wines from the 2016 vintage en primeur (as futures) from the legendary Hospices de Beaune estate in Bourgogne (The 60 ha include 85% of Premiers and Grands Crus). Purchases can be either a full pièce (a barrel of 288 bottles) or one of the 5 cuvées (wines) pre-selected by Albert Bichot on quality and terroir criteria. In this case the minimum purchase is of only 3 bottles. All buyers have the unique opportunity to add their name as a buyer on the Hospices de Beaune label.
For those with a strong constitution (or, more accurately, able to obtain a very exclusive ticket) the third day (Monday) of the Trois Glorieuses is all about Meursault and its Paulée. Meursault, the so-called capital of the great white Burgundies has revived the custom of a Paulée or feast to mark the end of the grape harvest. Nowadays the Paulée brings together winegrowers, their workers, friends, wine experts and writers from all around the world. Each of the guests brings his own bottles and, quite literally, it is possible to taste over 150 wines during a feast that commences at midday and finishes when the last person staggers out of the venue, the Château de Meursault.
Santé et Bonne Fête!
Franche-Comté en Fête
Celebrating a unique and acclaimed yellow coloured wine, the Percèe du Vin Jaune in Franche-Comté is a festival of warmth and good humour. Barry Whittingham reports
The Percèe du Vin Jaune has now become the biggest and most unique of all French vinicultural festivals enjoying an international reputation. It is traditionally held on the first weekend in February in one of the four AOC yellow wine-producing communes of the Jura area of Franche-Comté. (Note that in 2018, pre-registration is required for the first time as numbers will be limited to 25,000 instead of the usual 40,000 visitors. Registration is open now for the event.)
This unique festival celebrates a very special kind of wine. Though its origins are blurred by the mists of time, legend has it that it goes back to that period long ago when a Jura winegrower forgot all about a cask of white wine he’d stored in a far corner of his cellar, only to discover many years later that it had undergone an incredible metamorphosis - wonderful enough to justify the appellations of ‘divine nectar’ or ‘liquid gold’. It’s true that the wine’s rich yellow robe, its subtle nose of walnuts and spices and complex nutty flavour with hints of honey and apple are such that nothing really comparable exists.
Vinification is also special as the Savagnin grapes are harvested later than most other varieties, giving the wine its higher alcohol content; and after fermentation it’s allowed to age peacefully in oak casks for six years and three months during which time a veil of yeast forms on the surface, there by insulating the wine from all contact with the air. After ageing the cask of Vin Jaune is pierced (hence the name la Percèe,) by a tap and the bottling process begins. And here again the specifically-shaped bottle is just as special as the nectar it contains. Going under the name clavelin it contains 62 cl compared to the normal 75 cl - the 13 cl difference (the ‘angels’ share’ as it is so charmingly called) representing the inevitable evaporation during the lengthy cask-ageing period.
What’s more, once the precious liquid has been bottled it’s almost as immortal as the angels themselves with an ageing potential far outstripping other wines: at an auction in 2011, a clavelin dating back to 1774 sold for 57000€. Le Vin Jaune can be drunk as an apéritif with diced portions of Comté cheese; and if you happen to be in the Jura and get the chance to eat in a restaurant of repute try the speciality dish of Coq au Vin Jaune with cream and morille mushrooms which you’re sure to find on the menu.
a golden opportunity
The event itself is a festival of warmth and good humour attracting an average of 45,000 visitors each year. Not only is it a golden opportunity to savour a glass of Vin Jaune but you can taste the whole range of white, red and rosé Jura wines offered by the 70 or more wine growers present. Attractions begin at midday and include street musicians, theatre sketches, talks on the different Jura wines, wine tasting and cooking contests, an auction of old vintages, not forgetting a special Percèe evening on Saturday. The official cask-piercing ceremony (la mise en perce) is scheduled to take place from 11.15 onwards on Sunday morning, and starts off with a procession led by the red and yellow-robed brotherhood of wine-growing organisers, Les Ambassadeurs du Vin Jaune, proudly escorting the first 228 litre, 2009 vintage cask of yellow wine which is triumphantly borne to the platform on which it will be
The next festival, the Percèe du Vin Jaune, will be on February 3-4, 2018 in L'Etoile.
Barry A. Whittingham is the author of Barfield School, Book 1 in the Call of France series, available on Amazon (paperback or Kindle) at: http://amazon.com/-/e/B00ACXK28K