77. The Festival of Saint-Vincent Tournante
St. Vincent is the patron saint of vignerons, the French for wine-growers. This is usually, and inaccurately, translated as the patron saint of winemakers. Interestingly, there is no word in French for winemaker. The people I deal with in France think of themselves as growers – fruit farmers, growing grapes – who add value to their crop by turning it into wine.
In Burgundy the Festival of Saint-Vincent Tournante is celebrated on the last weekend of January. It is “Tournante” because wine-producing villages take it in turns to host it each year. It is an ancient festival, which ceased to be celebrated in the early twentieth century, but in 1938 it was restarted, taking place in Chambolle-Musigny. I am frequently in Burgundy when this festival happens, and I have been part of the crowds celebrating it on a number of occasions, in Meursault in 2001, in Corgoloin in 2011 and in Saint Aubin in 2014.
The whole village pitches in. The women spend most of the preceding year making thousands of paper flowers which are then installed throughout the village, bringing a colourful, summery appearance to the wintry surroundings. Individual householders set up their own displays in their gardens, in their forecourts, with model cows, motorbikes, figures doing haymaking - all sorts - very jolly, often hilarious. Special cuvées of wine, a red and a white, contributed to by all the growers in the village, are made for the occasion. The village is closed off, and you buy tickets to exchange for glasses of wine. There are various points where bars are set up to get your drinks. And there are other points where there are food stalls. Thousands of people turn up over the weekend – around 40,000. It’s a big event! There is, of course, lots of eating and drinking.
Early on the Saturday morning, there is a parade, with all the participating villages producing a team of people to carry their model of St. Vincent. This ends at the church, where a mass takes place.
On Saturday evening, a great big banquet takes place. We attended the Corgoloin one. It started at around 7 p.m. and ended at 1 a.m. – multiple courses, lots of French drinking songs, a few acts to amuse us, such as a singer, and a troupe of acrobats; and more wine – special vintages contributed from growers’ cellars.
On the Sunday there are no formalities – just another day of eating and drinking and being jolly!