August 22, 2001
Confrerie des Chevaliers de
la Puette et du Franc-Pinot
Vallee du Loir
When Monsieur Jean asked me if I would
like to join La Confrerie de la Puette and du Franc-Pinot, I
hesitated to say yes. The problem with joining a group is that
you become a part of what they officially stand for. I once joined
a college fraternity which was a great experience, but it was
not until after I graduated that I first saw the fraternity charter.
It was worse than an Alabama county club. I immediately realized
that I would never be a Supreme Court Justice or high elected
official. Also there is the problem of the secrets. It was only
after I learned the secret handshake that I was told that if
I ever revealed it to a non-brother, a hawk would swoop down
from the sky and pluck out my heart. I have learned to live comfortably
with the idea of not being a Supreme Court Justice but that damn
hawk haunts me everyday.
I know that confreries are wine drinking
fraternities that today include women members. I have seen pictures
of these distinguished looking men and women dressed in black
velvet robes with large gold medals and exotic looking hats.
They are truly impressive but I need more information. I don't
even know what a puette is. Monsieur Jean arranges a meeting
with Monsieur Yves Norguet who is a former Grand Master and the
doyen of the winemakers in the Vendomois. Monsieur Norguet is
a walking advertisement for the consumption of wine. At eighty-seven,
his age is a mathematical formula in French, 4 x 20 +7 = 87,
but his eyes belie his age. He sparkles like a vin petillant.
He moves slowly and his hands shake a bit but he is delighted
that I have asked for information on the history of the Confrerie.
He asks Jean some questions that seem to surprise him. He tells
me he never knows when Jean is serious or playing a joke on him.
He evidently does it all the time. We agree that I will be intronisee
at the wine fair in Thore-La-Rochette in August. He gives me
some old newspaper articles and forms to fill out and orders
us to follow him on a slow circuit to the Norguet chai where
a glass of wine seals the deal.
When I learn that my friend Charles Brousset
is being inducted into the confrerie at the wine fair in Montoire
during the Pentecost weekend, I decide to go to the ceremony
to see what I am getting into. The black robed Immortals are
lined up on the stage in somber fashion. Monsieur Norguet looks
impressive in his black velvet robe but the group of inductees
are impressive too. The candidates included the Mayor of Montoire,
businessmen and some local winemakers. Yves conducts the ceremony
and reads the rites of induction while tapping the new members
on the shoulder with a huge, polished vine root. As he taps the
shoulders he reads the oath:
Au nom de Bacchus et Saint Vincent,
Pour la Glorification des vins
De notre bonne Vallee du Loir,
Blancs, gris, rouges et roses fruites,
Que tout un chacun se doit boire
Sois Chevalier de la Confrerie
De la Puette et du Franc-Pinot.
The first inductee is a small lady who
listens to the oath and is handed a huge glass of wine filled
to the rim. It is about a half-bottle of wine. She has to drink
the whole glass without stopping while these noble looking men
and women sing something akin to drink chug-a-chug to the tune
of Frere Jacques. Since she is the first, she has to stand on
the stage until the other seven people are inducted. Each is
given this large glass of wine but no one else's glass is near
as full as the first lady who immediately turns red as a beet.
I am sure the stage must seems like a tightrope after the wine
sets in but she manages to make it through the ceremony. Most
people go straight home and go to bed after drinking so much
but my friend, Charles, manages to stay on his feet and dance
all night at the Winemaker's Dinner afterward. This is almost
as impressive as the lady's performance.
I make another trip to the Norguet vineyard
to get more information from Monsieur Norguet. He tells me that
the original confrerie was La Confrerie du Pinot-Franc that was
founded by Dr. Rene Henry in 1956 and that he was one of the
original inductees. Here is the oath that he took:
Par le grand Virgile qui chanta la vigne,
par le grand Rabelais qui chanta le vin,
par le grand Ronsard qui chanta le Loir,
je vous sacre Chevalier du Franc-Pinot.
I also learn that Yves was instrumental
in combining the Confrerie du Pinot-Franc with the Confrerie
de la Puette in 1980. The Confrerie de la Puette was founded
in 1946 and has an origin in the Sarthe region down river. A
puette is a small piece of wood that plugs the hole at the bottom
of a barrel of wine. It is used by the winemaker to taste the
progress of the vinification. I read that Pinot-Franc was argot
for the chenin grape but Monsieur Jean tells me that it is the
pineau d'aunis grape. Jean is usually right.
The day of induction has arrived and I
am getting a little nervous about the chug-a-lug part of the
ceremony. This particular wine fair has always been popular and
there are hundreds of people present as well as a number of distinguished
government officials. What if I get sick on the stage? As I am
waiting at the wine tasting area I see my friends Marc and Monique
Petit-Brazilier. They offer me a glass but I say that I will
wait until after the ceremony. Marc says that is a good idea
because when he went through the ceremony he had to drink a whole
bottle and got sick. Now, I am getting a little queasy. Monique
tells me that her nephew, Benoit Brazilier, is also being inducted
to today. When I meet Benoit, he tells me of having to drink
a whole liter of wine at another ceremony. I decide that I don't
want to hear any more stories and go over to the stage where
the ceremony will take place. While waiting, the crowd begins
to grow and I spot some familiar faces. Monsieur Jean and the
Petit Jules are in the front row making faces and cracking jokes.
They have never joined a confrerie and I begin to wonder why?
The stage fills with the black-robed officers
of the confrerie and the visiting dignitaries. The crowd falls
silent and the inductees are called to the stage one at the time.
When my name is called I climb the first two steps, trip on the
third and accept the assistance of the Grand Chambellan to find
my place. I stand before the Grand Maitre as he reads my biography
to the crowd. He concludes by stating the following:
You are a writer and a member of the association
of Resurgence. You love our country, the valley of the Loir and
its wines. You live here in one of the most beautiful villages
of France, Lavardin. You appreciate the wines of the Coteaux
du Vendomois, du Jasnieres and du Coteaux du Loir, but you are
also a gourmet of Bordeaux, Chinon, Gamay de Touraine, Tavel,
muscadet as well as, Quincy and Sancerre. In making you today
at Thore la Rochette, Chevalier de la Puette and du Franc-Pinot,
our brotherhood knows that you will be in the United States,
a well-informed ambassador of our beautiful Valley of the Loir.
Next the Grand Bailli taps my shoulder
with a polished vine root of the cepage Pinot-Franc while the
Grand Maitre reads the following oath:
In the name of Bacchus and Saint Vincent,
For the Glorification of the wines
Of our good Valley of the Loir,
White, rose, red and roses fruites,
That everyone ought to drink,
I make you Chevalier de la Confrerie
De la Puette et du Franc-Pinot.
A large sliver medal attached to a blue,
white and red ribbon is draped around my neck by a pretty young
girl who kisses me four times. After the last oath is read, each
of the five inductees is given a large glass of wine equivalent
to a half-bottle. It seems huge in my hand but it is much less
that a liter. After a toast we are instructed to drink and the
black robed figures begin to sing:
vos petits verrres, vos petits verres,
glugla, glugla, glugla, glugla....
It is a very good pineau d'aunis gris
and I drink it as fast as I can but I don't finish first. Benoit
knows the technique of opening the throat and pours it down a
good 10 seconds before me. The only lady in the group has some
trouble finishing but finally manages it. We are given certificates
and instructed by the Grand Bailli and the Premier Echevin to
sign the Livre d'Or. The certificate says that I have suffered
the test of the entonnage of the wines of the Valley of the Loir
and have been found worthy to be a Chevalier. There are no secrets
to keep. I search the sky and it is clear.