The Saint-Vincent de Tournante Festival in Burgundy attracts over 40,000 visitors each year to celebrate Burgundy wine and the Saint who watches over the winemakers. The festival ceremony begins early in the morning when the winemakers make their way through the town, shouldering miniature wooden sleighs bearing hand-made carved wooden Saint-Vincente statues. The procession makes its way to the church for a mass presided over by the The Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (Burgundy’s wine brotherhood) who wear magnificent gold and red costumes. Then it’s off to visit the various villages who are involved to taste wine with the visitors’ conveniently carrying their tasting glass around their necks, ready for action.
Each wine bottle in the tasting carries the Saint-Vincent label and on the back, lists the name of the village where the wine was made. It’s a bit of a lottery – you don’t know what wine you are drinking – but it’s in the spirit of community, where everyone joins together to support each other in good times and bad with Saint-Vincent looking down from heaven and thanking the stars that he’s become an honorary Burgundian.
The festival ends with a Grand Banquet de La Saint-Vincent, a good-humoured night of speeches and wine and superb food of the region. It ends with dancing and laughter and a feeling that wherever there is good wine and winemakers, there is warmth and a willingness to celebrate the small things in life. St-Vincente would approve.
About St Vincent, patron saint of winemakers
St Vincent is the patron saint of winemakers and each year, a festival dedicated to his name is held in the wine-growing region of Burgundy, France. The event, a blend of religious ceremony, wine tasting and formal public ritual takes place on the Saint’s official feast day of 22 January.
So how did Saint-Vincent became the patron saint of wine-makers, especially given that he didn’t have a connection with wine or wine-making during his life? Not surprisingly, there are many stories of how this came to pass.
One rather macabre story – and one that the Burgundians themselves are not too keen on – says that Vincent was a priest in Spain during Roman times. When he was martryed, he was condemned to have his body crushed. The blood that sprang from his body reminded people of the way that grape juice springs from the wine press and when Vincent was canonised, he was adopted by the winemakers to watch over them. (Hence Vincent meant “Vin sang”, that is “the blood of the wine”.)
Another narrative offers that part of the body of St Vincent was dispatched throughout Europe in the form of relics. His dress and one of his arms arrived in an abbey built in Paris by King Childebert 1er in the 6th Century. This abbey was named Sainte-Croix-Saint-Vincent (Holy Cross of Saint-Vincent). The abbey owned vineyards and the monks there invoked St Vincent through the relics they possessed to protect their vineyards to ensure a good production. If this story is true, the monks seemed to tire of St Vincent (perhaps he wasn’t as effective as they hoped) and he was replaced in their favour by Saint-Germain des Pres. (Indeed the abbey was renamed to Saint-Germain des Prés, a famous Parisian landmark.)
Luckily, the kind Burgundians had more faith in Saint-Vincent and adopted him with some fervour. He is now celebrated in a festival that takes place very year in a different wine village. That’s why the festivities are called Touring Saint-Vincent or Saint-Vincent Tournante.
If you would like to visit the festival, you’ll find details here: St Vincent Tournante Festival website
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