Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column

January 24, 2001 - Festival of Saint Vincent

Saint Vincent is the patron saint of the vignerons. The festival of Saint Vincent takes place every year on the 22nd of January. The 22nd of January represents a crucial period in the annual cycle. It is near the winter solstice and the passage from the state of dormancy of the vines. It is also the time in many vineyards when the vines are trimmed and cut. It probably has a pagan origin but it is a very Catholic festival. The festival has many variations across France but it is a quasi-religious celebration in the wine growing regions that has become an annual community social event. Historically after the religious ceremony on 22 January, the drinking and eating begins and lasts up to four days in some regions. The parties only stop to milk the cows as one historian wrote. Things have calmed down quite a bit in the modern age and the party just lasts all day long. Sometimes there is a ceremony to induct new members who are required to chug-a-lug 50 cl (2/3 bottle) of wine without stopping. Last year a local cabinet maker was inducted and was required to drink two of these glasses because it was the year 2000. The rest of the ceremony involves eating, drinking, dancing, and many speeches extolling the virtues of wine and the wine growers. The speeches include stories like the one concerning Cardinal de Berry who lived in the seventeenth century and was a protégé of Madame de Montespan. It is said that he served only a very fine Meursault at mass to prevent his flock from making faces in front of Jesus.

I missed the festival last year because of other obligations. This year I was invited to three different festivals but I was still only able to attend one. The village of Saint Rimay held its festival a week earlier this year so as not to conflict with the festival of other villages. Here is the menu for the Festival. It says it all.

Saint Rimay
Menu
De La Saint Vincent
13 janvier 2001

BEUVEZ TOUJOURS NE MOURREZ JAMAIS
(Drink forever and never die)
(Rabelais)

The vigneron from Vouvray sitting across the table from me told me that this is the devise (motto) for the Chinon region of France. The devise for Vouvray is Je rejouis les coeurs (I gladden the heart). I have to admit that my heart has been gladdened many times by a glass of Vouvray. I can drink Chinon each night and am still not dead.

President: DE TANDT Raymond
Vice-Président: VIAU Jacques
Bon
Appétit

VINS(wines)

These wines go with different foods and are in addition to the Apéritif, the Digestif and Mousseux which have separate courses and specific drinking times.
COLOMBELLE (Blanc) - white
SAUMUR CHAMPIGNY - red
BORDEAUX - red

MENU

Apéritif
This a kir(a mixture of white wine and cassis) with kiwi and strawberries in the glass to make it more festive.

Assiette Spriritueuse
This was a salad of noix de Saint Jacques on a bed of mâche with a mustard sauce.

Pavé de Sandre au Beurre d'Orange
This is the fish course. Sandre is a perch-like fresh water fish that is common in France.

Sorbet aux poires
This is supposed to clean the palette.

Biche aux Airelles

Deer meat with mushrooms. Deer meat in France is as tender as veal. I have no idea why it doesn't have the consistency of cardboard. It's just another mystery.

Salade

Fromages

Gâteau aux Trois Chocolats

A yummy three chocolate cake

Café

 Digestif

In this case the digestif is an eau de vie make from prunes. Eau de vie translates into English as water of life. While this delicate liqueur may put hair on your chest is most certainly not water. Fortunately it is served in very small doses.

Mousseux

An excellent sparkling wine from Vouvray

This was about a six hour dinner with a lot of wine, songs and jokes. The singing starts about the time of the fish course and continues until the end of the dinner. From time to time, someone will stand up and start singing, acappella. The songs are generally traditional French songs that everyone seems to recognize. Others stand up and tell jokes. The singing and jokes continue throughout the meal. The jokes are hard to follow. Language problems show up clearly when someone tells a joke. I can tell from the inflections that a joke has been told and it is time to laugh but I am faking it every time. But there is no faking it with the songs. I am completely charmed to be a part of this ancient French tradition. Here is the refrain from one of the songs which is about a cheese. The cheese is camembert, a soft creamy cheese from Normandy that is so filled with flavor even the pasteurized version sold in the US can't completely mask its complex taste. It is a love song that only the French could write and only the French would sing.

Etoile de crèmes, mon bon camembert                  Star of creme, my handsome camembert
C'est toi qui j'aime comme dessert                   I love you like a dessert
Apres le potage, après les fayotes                   After the soup, after the beans
Roi des fromage, de tous les mets                    King of cheese, of all plates
T'es bien le plus beau.                              You are the most beautiful.


The festival of Saint Vincent is many things. It is a religious festival and at the same time a secular celebration. However it is celebrated, Saint Vincent appears in it as an prominent symbol and it is an important event for the wine growers. But for me Saint Vincent will always be the sound of older French woman singing alone. She is well past eighty but her voice never breaks. It quavers slightly but as she comes to the refrain her eyes close and her voice rings as pure and sweet as a child's. She seems completely without ego or self-consciousness in her flowery dress as real children skip and play as she sings. Saint Vincent in a little farming village seems closer to the earth than I. Her voice though will never quite leave me and so I too in a small way get to share her deep, deep roots.

toile de crèmes, mon bon camembert                  Star of creme, my handsome camembert
C'est toi qui j'aime comme dessert                   I love you like a dessert
Apres le potage, après les fayotes                   After the soup, after the beans
Roi des fromage, de tous les mets                    King of cheese, of all plates
T'es bien le plus beau.                              You are the most beautiful.

Subscribe to receive Tales From the Loir Weekly by Email
January 17, 2001 - Guest Columnist Aprille Glover
January 10, 2001 - Muscadet
January 3, 2001 - Ode to Protein
December 27, 2000 - Summer Dreaming: Escargot
December 20, 2000 - Let Them Eat Cake
December, 13 2000 - Back to France
November 29, 2000 - Beignets Aux Fleurs d'Acacia
November 15, 2000 - Thanksgiving
November 8, 2000 - Pouse D'Epine
November 1, 2000 - Col de Vence: A day on the Moon
October 25, 2000 - Cult of the Black Virgin
October 18, 2000 - Harvesting Grapes by Hand
October 4, 2000 - Provence: All Good Things

 

 

       

Home Page

Books

Internet Column

Wine Stories & Recipes

Virtual Cave Tours
About Author

Sign our Guest book or Look at Site Map or Links Page

This site and all its contents are copyrighted ® 2000 William Glover. All rights reserved.