Dating to the Middle Ages, winegrowers throughout Europe have invoked St. Vincent Saragossa as their guardian saint. Every January some winegrowers still honor St. Vincent with Masses, celebrations, prayers and, of course, wine tasting.
In Burgundy, France, which claims some of the most prestigious wineries in the world, there has been an organized festival for St. Vincent since the 1930s. Festival de la Saint-Vincent Tournante (http://www.st-vincent-tournante.fr) attracts tens of thousands and features a lot of pomp and circumstance, such as banners, flags and many antique statues of St. Vincent.
This year’s feast will be held on Jan. 28-29, 2012, which is the dormant and pruning time for vines. It is organized by the Confrèrie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (Brotherhood of Winegrowers). Every year different towns host the event; the three main hosts for this year will be Dijon, Nuits-Saint-Georges and Beaune. This year the procession starts in Dijon at 8:30 in the morning, followed by Mass at 9am in the St. Bénigne Cathedral in Dijon.
Burgundy is located just southeast of Paris in an area respected for its fine cuisine and exceptional wines. The scenic beauty of Burgundy could be described as a poem written into its landscape. Here, castles and Romanesque churches rise from gently rolling hills, and the leafy rows of vineyards decorate the countryside. For visitors, the beautiful cathedral and châteaux towns of Vézelay, Cluny, Dijon and Beaune keep alive their radiant past.
Winemakers adopted St. Vincent as their protector because of the physical torture he endured during his martyrdom. In a similar vein, vineyards face their own agonies with threats of drought, mildew, frost and insects. Vintners understood this connection and looked to St. Vincent for assistance.
In 304, St. Vincent of Saragossa was martyred during the last great persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperors Maximian and Diocletian. Years later, after Burgundy had experienced multiple poor vintages, the Church brought some of St. Vincent’s relics to the region, and the vineyards then yielded exceptional vintages for many years. Naturally, devotion to St. Vincent spread, establishing his association with Burgundian winemakers.
The winemakers have formed brotherhoods to create more union in the industry and recall the guilds of the past. The idea behind the brotherhoods is to aid members if they are in time of need as well as to provide companionship among the vinters. These brotherhoods play an important role in the celebrations.
Throughout the years, the villagers have developed a wealth of imaginative ways to celebrate their patron.
During the festival, there are processions with historic statues of St. Vincent that pass through some of the most important villages. They are all treated as relics and highly honored during this annual festival.
Throughout the year, paper flowers are crafted for the festival’s decorations. Since the festival is held in the winter, the towns’ squares are converted to a summer feel, with literally thousands of these beautiful paper flowers. Despite the snow-draped earth, the colorful and elaborate arrangements of these paper flowers offer a sense of springtime’s brilliance.
Some 80 different members in the wine brotherhood help organize the St. Vincent festival. New members are inducted during a Mass. During the Mass, the life of St. Vincent is remembered, and members dress up, complete with colorful ribbons and lapel pins — yellow represents sunshine, green represents the grapevine, and red represents the earth.
During the festival, there are tastings of the local Burgundy wines. Visitors tour the local villages, where winegrowers have opened their cellars for wine tasting, and everyone may join in the fun.
Available for purchase is also the St. Vincent souvenir glass, which grants attendees as many tasting drinks as they wish in different villages during the weekend for 15 euros. This tasting kit includes an engraved glass with the St. Vincent logo, a little pouch to carry your glass safely between villages and a bracelet pièces de vin, which gives access to the tasting pavilions.
There is also an elaborate banquet on Saturday for 140 euros per person. Some of the specialties of the past include oysters, foie gras, roasted pig and local cheese, all perfectly matched with wines from Burgundy.
It is a celebration of the religious and secular history of wine growing in Burgundy. Obviously there is a natural connection between wine and the Mass. The festival continues the beautiful tradition of mixing the sacred with the secular work of wine growing, allowing all to enjoy the wine, which will be used for Mass and elsewhere.
The colorful ceremonies give a sense of Burgundy’s living history. No matter where they go, be it to the cathedral for Mass or to the tasting tents for a Chablis or Mâconnais, visitors will not be disappointed with St. Vincent as the ambassador of good wine.
Jennifer Roche writes from Wisconsin.