Margaret and Dick   


July '04: La Fete du Chardonnay

I saw the poster for the annual Fête du Chardonnay of St Polycarpe as I was cycling through the village and screeched to a stop.  This festival is not to be missed, but it is not widely publicized.  Like most annual village festivals, it is mostly for the locals.  In St Polycarpe, the festival celebrates the growers whose vineyards dot the hills and whose incomes support a prosperous little village. 

Early in the day there is a mass in the church, a blessing of a cask of Chardonnay, and the gathering of the La Confrerie de l'Ordre des Sarments de Pierre (the brotherhood of the order of vines of stone).  No idea what vines of stone might be.  These local brotherhoods are organized in celebration of a local specialty such as the Chardonnay of St Polycarpe.  In addition to local important people in the business, they include regional stars of the arts and hangers-on who appreciate the local product of excellence.  Only a chosen few are invited into this local brotherhood, one of the Confrerie Bachique (Brotherhoods of Wine).  In addition to recognition of a sort, membership is an excuse to dress up in funny clothes (think Catholic bishop, but symbolizing things like bean stew instead of religious rank).  Women are also included, though they are few in number.  There are around twenty confreries in our Languedoc-Roussillon region, with names like “Knights of the Plate” and “The Very Noble and Very Gourmet Brotherhood of the Little Paté of Pezenas”.  These are perhaps not entirely serious organizations.

In the initiation ceremony for this Confrerie, new members must demonstrate knowledge of vine maintenance techniques for each of the four seasons.  Most new initiates have never been close to a vine until today.  I guess they are coached in the right responses to ritual questions, like a child memorizing catechism.

On festival day, Neil and Lorna decided to join me.  We determined from a poster that the wine cellars would open at , after the mid-day dinner of the brotherhood of the Chardonnay.  Being good North Americans, we arrived promptly at No one was visible at the main wine cellar.  Hearing voices and music we wandered over to the courtyard of the school to find the big mid-day dinner party just barely underway.  “Come back around .”  So back we went to Limoux.

Returning around , we were encouraged to see more cars and more people.  By several villagers came out of the courtyard to open up the tasting.  For 5€, you get a souvenir glass and tickets for four glasses of Chardonnay, plus the starter poured as you collect your glass.  More villagers came out to join and chat with visitors.  The mayor of St. Polycarpe recognized me from volunteer work at the bike race at this village, and we shook hands.  He has been mayor of St Polycarpe for over 30 years, we were told.  His son is head winemaker at the giant Sieur d’Arques winery in Limoux and president of the French national Sommeliers association.  Both are friendly and down-to-earth. 

The Chardonnay, crisp, acidic, with a solid body of fruit, went down very easily.  We had brought water to sip to balance out the alcohol.  But still, four tickets per person…

We walked down the little lane by the 12th-century church, past the Roman aqueduct, to the small fairgrounds being set up for a concert that evening.  Marching ahead of us were musicians dressed in folkloric outfits of another era.  Accordions, drum, saxophone, polkas.  As we sipped through our tickets and enjoyed the music and folk-dancing, we encountered Jean-Claude and Sonia who insisted that we stay for dinner in the courtyard.  Er, I guess, but after this much Chardonnay?  An official strolled by with a clip-board and we signed up – 15 for dinner with (mais bien sur!) wine. 

During dinner in the courtyard, we sat with JC, Sonia, and J-C’s cousin, and her husband, who live in St Polycarpe.  “Sit by Dick,” JC said to his cousin.  “Oh no,” she trilled, in a high shrill voice.  “We don’t know him!”  I ended up between cousin and husband, and after several courses and several glasses of wine, they decided I was okay.

It was a fun dinner, and conversation built to fever pitch.  A starter of salami, ham, and paté was followed by a main course of beef bourguignon, then salad, cheese, dessert.  Stop me before I eat again. 

(I had wanted to include at least one of the jokes that regaled us after dinner, but webmaster Margaret edited it out.)

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