Henry IV provided the inspiration for the Chevalier du Cep festival more than 400 years ago. It is widely said and entirely accepted that the red wines of Givry, situated in the Cote Chalonnaise, were King Henry’s favorites. Now as then, they are fresh, lively and approachable wines meant for early drinking.
But in the early 20th century, the wines of Burgundy took a nosedive in popularity. In 1934, the famous Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin was created as a solution to promote Burgundy’s wines, cuisine, folklore and festivals. Headquartered in the prestigious Clos du Vougeot, the brotherhood has more than 12,000 members.
Over the next several decades, many more confreries were created at the village level. Chevalier du Cep Henri IV de Givry was founded in 1963. Every year, on the third Saturday of January, members of the brotherhood gather to give thanks to St. Vincent, the patron saint of winemakers, and to induct new members. It is a twelve-hour affair full of pageantry and promises, love and laughter, food and wine.
The morning begins at Domaine du Clos Cellier aux Moines where the statue of St. Vincent has rested throughout 2013. While the Domaine was founded more than 900 years ago by Cistercian Monks, it has been owned since 2004 by Philippe and Catherine Pascal who have restored the domaine. M. Pascal is a former executive in the wine industry, including labels owned by Seagrams and LVMH.
After welcoming remarks and a glass of wine (at about 9:30 am!), the pageantry began with the festivals leaders heading in formal procession to the Place La Poste in Givry and to the church of Givry.
Following a formal mass, the third procession wound through the village streets of Poncey to Domaine Moreau, where St. Vincent will reside in 2014. Grateful there was no rain, we were nevertheless chilled to the bone in the Domaine’s courtyard. Even regular nibbles of Brie or gougeres between sips of Aligote didn’t quite take the edge off. In addition to welcoming St. Vincent to D. Moreau, a second purpose of this segment of the festival was to enjoy and purchase Brie cheese in honor of the “marriage” of the Chevaliers du Cep to the Brie de Meaux in 1992.
Shortly after 1:00 we all made our way to the grand banquet and induction ceremony. Our eight course meal stretched until nearly 9:00 with wines provided by local vintners. About halfway through this gastronomic experience, five new members from Germany, England and the United States as well as France were inducted into the Chevalier du Cep. I am proud to share that I am the only woman from the Americas to become a member of the brotherhood — a chevaliere — joining Harry Santen as the only other American.
Viva la Givry!!