February 4, 2014

Burgundy is Good

La Saint Vincent Tournante, January 25-26, 2014
Saint-Aubin, Cote d’Or, Burgundy, France

Everyone is thirsty
Let us begin with a simple but beautiful truth: 

France celebrates every time Food marries Wine.

The first Saturday after January 22, the calendar day dedicated to Saint Vincent, the patron saint of wine makers, a village in Burgundy hosts La Saint-Vincent Tournante. In 2014, the 70th version of the celebration, Saint-Aubin welcomed more than 40,000 visitors from all over France, Europe, and beyond. They came for a celebratory mass, to watch men and women in robes parade through town.  Mostly, though, they came for one of the 30,000 engraved glasses and to sip from one of the 10,000 bottles prepared especially for the occasion. Local police informed tourists that they could expect increased controls to prevent any illegal driving. It was a rare sunny day in the Burgundy winter, cold but fresh, and the town was shimmering with pride.

My wife and I decided there could be no better place in all of France to take a toddler and a baby. So, en route...

On the drive to Saint Aubin, we heard the head of the decorating committee describe the efforts of the townspeople to make the festival a success. When asked how many meters of crepe paper they had used, she laughed and said, “Well, I estimate we made more than 100,000 paper flowers throughout the town.” All by volunteers. Over two years. 

We parked in a vineyard outside of town and walked two miles to the festival. Buses, shuttles, cars, and RVs lined the route on both sides, and steady traffic passed about a forearm’s length from the snaking line of pedestrians. For 15 euros each, we purchased our commemorative glasses, special carrying pouches that we put around our neck, and tickets for seven tastings at the caveaux spaced throughout the town.

Any celebration of wine tends to infect its visitors with good humor. Once food is added, life improves. Here, instead of hot dogs, pizza, and chicken wings, the organizers invited men from the Alps to dish out steaming plates of tartiflette, potatoes bathed in Reblochon cheese and dotted with bits of lardons, the ubiquitous bacon bit that infiltrates most meals in France. Its little salad added color to the plate. Up by the 1000-year-old church (that's "one thousand years-old"), the duck expert was selling rillettes sandwiches. Near one of the white wine tasting areas, oyster shells were scattered at our feet, piled on wine barrels, and stacked on plates. Several chacutiers offered artisanal plates of cheese and pig products in pure simplicity, the pink flesh of the hams and saucissons contrasting with the pale yellow cheeses. On Shakedown, a man stood behind a giant skillet, frying enormous amounts of meat to pile into sandwiches. That sure looks like steak and cheese…but that can’t be right…it’s andouillette, the chitterling sausages that are famous in the region.  Chitterling means intestine. Intestine sausages. Hundreds of them, popped out of their casings, cooking together in the enormous pan. The smell, rumored to be offensive, could make a vegetarian question her life choices. Further along, a man has been spreading swaths of fromage fort on baguette sliced lengthwise and popping them under the broiler, a sort of French grilled cheese. The aroma awakens deep longing in humankind.

Amid it all, the three year old on my back behaves well…until he starts insisting that he is thirsty. Really thirsty. 

New if rather inconvenient discovery: at a French wine festival, one drinks wine.  


There is nothing else available to quench a thirst.  

Off we went to the ticket booth (really just a table set up in someone’s garage), and ask if the fine people there could steer me towards some water for my son. 

Perhaps Monsieur could wait one minute?  Bien sûr

The hostess shuffled to her own kitchen, returning triumphantly with a glass of water, which the son grabbed and sipped aggressively. It is a scene repeated throughout the day, local residents welcoming this family of Americans, far from home, with grace, kindness, and warmth in the midst of the largest friendly invasion the town will ever experience. 

Despite driving rain, frosty mornings, and a sun that refuses to rise before 8:00am, it turns out that January in Burgundy is a place to warm your hands and heart by the fire of France.

The wines were exceptional. The white, featuring “beeswax and cinnamon” on the nose and harmonizing “finesse and elegance;” the reds offering a “discreet acidity” and an evolution that makes them “tender.” 

For the record, we did not hear a word of English the entire day.

In 2015, the festival is in Gilly-les-Citeaux and Vougeot. See you there. I’ll be the one with a two year old on my back, glass in pouch, clinging to the hand of my four-year-old, looking for water in between bites of intestine.

What:  Wine and food festival
Where:  Rotates among winemaking villages of Burgundy; 2015 in Gilly-les-Citeaux and Vougeot
When:  The first Saturday and Sunday of January after the 22nd (January 24-25, 2015)
How Much:  15 euros bought a commemorative glass, a carrying pouch, and seven (7!) tasting tickets

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