St. Vincent is the patron saint of vineyards – his saint’s day is celebrated in many towns of the French Burgundy region. I was invited to visit the family of our supplier Guy Chaumont in January 2004, to join in the St. Vincent’s day celebration with the Society of Vignerons of St. Desert, founded in 1840. The society honored the Chaumont family as the protectors of the saint’s statue for 2004, so the day’s activities centered on or were located at the Chaumont family winery and cellar. We began in the morning with the annual meeting of the society, where members came to honor Guy, pay annual dues, and choose by lottery the protector for 2005. This meeting, like many of the events to follow, began with Bourgogne Aligote and brioche, two staples of the table from this area.
Guy Chaumont, at the winemakers’ meeting
The society and a few friends next accompanied Guy and the 2003 protector, both carrying the statue in parade to the village’s ancient church, where many more family and friends joined us for a mass to celebrate the intimate connection between the earth, food, wine, and the sacrament of Holy Communion. In this case, the bread and wine were more brioche and Aligote (a crisp white wine made in the area, and named after its grape varietal). A large gathering followed mass in the church. Then the parade left the church to commemorate French victims of WWI & II at the memorial in front of the church. All these events were accompanied by a wonderful brass band with whom Guy Chaumont plays French horn!
People gathered in the church after mass
Bottles of Aligote in front of the altar
The parade, with the whole crowd following, went next down the hill to the Chaumont family cellars, established by Guy’s father after WWII. A large tent had been erected to protect us from light rain, and it was filled with more wine and delicacies, including the ever-present brioche and Aligote! We then moved to more serious sparkling wine from the Chaumont family. The cellars were also sparkling and exhibits of winemaking tools were arranged outside. We talked and celebrated for a couple of hours before going back up the hill to the evening banquet for about 150 family members and close friends of the Society.
Guy, proudly carrying the statue of St. Vincent
The banquet was excellent, as you would expect in Burgundy, and accompanied by special bottles of all types and vintages, supplied by the attendees. Each course began with a fanfare from the brass band and a description of the dish to follow. Each one was followed by dancing to the excellent and eclectic music of a local DJ. We had Cassolette de St. Jacques a la Provencale with some excellent Montrachets and Cortons, and stuffed duck leg with mushrooms, accompanied by many, many reds, including 1955 Clos St. Denis, 1957 Aloxe Corton, 1964 Corton Grand Cru, etc, etc. Each table had their own particular bottles, but there was much sharing and walking around. We finally ended after midnight with hot onion soup to fortify us for the journey home.
The hall before and during the banquet
I left early the next day for the next stage of my journey to Spain and Southern France, of which more photos will follow on our site. However, the Celebration of St. Vincent in St. Desert was certainly the highlight of this trip to Europe and I’ll remember it for many years. The fellowship all day was very warm and the banquet was a great time to enjoy the company of my French friends.
Statue of St. Vincent
A basket of brioche
The village church
The procession after leaving the church
A tent outside the cellars
Winemaking equipment on display
Empty bottles, after a long day