4 reasons why I never miss the Saint-Vincent Tournante Wine Festival
My first visit to the Fête des Vins de Saint-Vincent Tournante in Burgundy dates back to 2001. It was cold, as usual, the third weekend of January. As we entered town, there were dark clouds of snow covering much of the sun, but between them were tall columns of golden light. It sounded like a biblical omen, and indeed it was.
The party was that year in Meursault, one of the paradises of white Chardonnay. For a small fee, you were offered a tasting glass to hang around your neck and, in those days, unlimited tasting opportunities as you wander these ancient cobbled streets from one wine cellar to the next.
Each year, a new reason to take part in the Saint-Vincent Tournante Wine Festival in Burgundy. Here, I’ll jot down four specific reasons to make this festival a highlight of your annual calendar.
The Fête des Vins de Saint-Vincent Tournante, sponsored by 85 different fraternal benefit societies, has been an annual dance of the changing villages since 1938. It “rotates” from village to village every year.
This year 2022, he turned to one of the best white vineyards in the world: the communes of Puligny-Montrachet, Blagny and Corpeau. In the region’s best Chardonnay wines, every element of quality is intensified: they are a brilliant golden color; on the nose in the glass we find lingering notes of vanilla and hazelnut; and on the palate a persistence and succulence of these notes associated with a hint of butter, green apple, sweet touches of honey, and a complexity of other incomparable and persistent notes.
Saint Vincent is of course the patron saint of winegrowers and he has been celebrated in Burgundy since medieval times. It is, fundamentally, a religious holiday, for a region endowed with some of the best terroirs in the world and an exceptional tradition of winemakers who allow this blessing to come to fruition. With a growing concern for the environment among winegrowers, the theme this year was the four elements: earth (terroir), water (the source of all life), air (oxygen) and fire. (the sun). It is the combination of these four elements that provides our alchemist winegrowers with the material to produce the golden wines of the grand cru Puligny-Montrachet, and the excellent premier cru and terroir wines.
In the typically elegant but sober and modest Burgundian tradition, the logo of the party, which can be found on all the tasting glasses, was a caboose, “a small circular hut traditionally used to store equipment and shelter from the weather”. A real cabotte was built for the festival, between Corpeau and Puligny-Montrachet. They also kept the originally planned date of 2021 (pre-COVID planning was for January 2021) on all their promotional material; this festival has been held in Puligny-Montrachet every 30 years since 1961. They wish to continue to highlight this very special date tradition for their village.
Pro Tip: The city at the center of the activity of this festival each year is Beaune. Few cities in the world will have the tradition and history of excellent wine that you will find here. You’ll also find an assortment of hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs. The choice of restaurants is also vast and excellent.
2. Entire town(s) shut down
This year, the festival involved three neighboring villages. As usual, the various entrance gates of the villages were closed to traffic and the participants bought a tasting kit for 20 euros. These can often be booked in advance via the website.
The tasting kit this year consisted of an official Saint-Vincent wine glass engraved with the logo (Absolus 36 by Lehmann Glass), a wine glass holder (for the neckband), a map of villages and tickets for six tastings.
The tasting glass around your neck, you will stroll through the streets of the village full of cheerful visitors. There are several music points and a variety of street performers on your walk connecting the wine cellars. This year six grape varieties to taste were offered at the entrance: Bourgogne Côte d’Or Blanc 2018, Bourgogne Côte d’Or Rouge 2018, Puligny-Montrachet 2017, Puligny-Montrachet 2018, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru 2018, and a mystery vintage to test you and enigmatic.
Early festivities are always local and religious, so it may be best to arrive mid-morning or late morning, then think about slow food and slow tasting. Enjoy every step with the other party goers. There are catering options, and this is Burgundy, with excellent cuisine, all well matched with the wines. There was also, in the necessary French way, a mobile bakery with pastries. Distributed in these three beautiful villages, and the communication routes, there were 125 artists: bandstands, brass bands, craftsmen and street artists.
3. “A river of like-minded wine lovers”
There were 50,000 visitors this year. Fifty thousand wine lovers going from winemaker to winemaker. Puligny-Montrachet is built on a bed of stone, so there are few caves built underground. The “cellars” of the winegrowers are generally on the surface. In traditional Burgundian style, these are modest in appearance, but anything but modest in the quality of the wines. So visitors travel, along with a river of like-minded wine lovers, from one winemaker to the next. In addition to the six wines offered with the wine kit given at the entrance, there were 11 official places to do a tasting, as well as restaurants and bistros along the route. The March weather was exceptionally warm this year, as was the atmosphere amongst visitors as we enjoyed live music, a variety of artisans and an exceptional range of food. The festival usually takes place on the third weekend of January, so it is often necessary to prepare for the colder weather.
Pro Tip: The festival can require a lot of walking, often in crowds and on uneven village streets. Anyone with reduced mobility will need to investigate the location in any given year and consider how to handle these challenges. There will always be street cafes to offer a seat and a glass or bottle of wine.
4. The future
Burgundy is so rich in winemaking tradition and creation that each new year can and does create another special reason to come to this event.
After a year in exceptional white wine territory, the master of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin announced during the weekend of this year’s festival that the 2023s will be in Couchey (village adjacent to Dijon) and will return to the traditional third week. -end of January.
The Saint-Vincent Tournante Wine Festival therefore turns to the northernmost village of the Côte de Nuit. Couchey has the distinction of being the only village in Burgundy with three colors of wine – white, rosé and red – with AOC village labels of wine quality. From this northern head of the Côte de Nuit there is a tail of Burgundy’s finest reds, and some of the best pinot noir in the world. The name Côte de Nuit comes from that of Nuits-Saint-Georges, the southern edge of this magnificent beast, and in between we have ten other terroirs that should be known to all wine lovers.
All of these villages are linked geographically and by name, with the region this year (Côte de Beaune) forming part of what is collectively known as the Côte d’Or, or the ‘Côte d’Or’ of wine. In the world, it is difficult to find a wine region more “golden” in quality, and in price, than the Côte d’Or. Selective, well-informed choices will leave you with wines that really, drastically improve in quality and value with age.
All Côte de Nuit wines are said to have “muscle and strength,” but they all also age to a balance of velvety tannins and wonderful complexity. From the subtle, sweet power of Marsannay wines, with possibilities for rosé, the wine proposals will add tannin, depth and aging potential as they move south to Nuits-Saint-George.
So next year we can expect the contrast of an extraordinary red wine region, adding a balance of rosé, with memories of the nectar of this year’s exceptional white wines. Each year, we go from one village to another in this Côte d’Or, a paradise for wine lovers.
There’s so much to enjoy here, but be sure to take some home. When buying wine in Burgundy, it is useful to understand the region’s specific wine quality categorization system. This site will help you understand the differences between grands crus, premiers crus and village and regional wines.