My first visit to the Saint-Vincent Tournante Wine Festival in Burgundy was in 2001. It was cold, as usual, on the third weekend of January. As we walked into town, there were dark snow clouds covering much of the sun, but between them were large columns of golden sunlight. It seemed biblical in portend, and indeed it was.
The festival was in Meursault that year, one of the heavens of white chardonnay. For a small fee, you were given a tasting glass to hang around your neck and, at the time, unlimited tasting possibilities as you walked through these ancient cobblestoned streets from one wine cave to another.
Each year there is another new reason to participate in the Saint-Vincent Tournante Wine Festival in Burgundy. Here I will note four specific reasons to make this festival a yearly highlight of your calendar.
The Saint-Vincent Tournante Wine Festival, sponsored by 85 different mutual aid societies, has been a yearly dance of changing villages since 1938. It “turns” from one village to the next each year.
This year, 2022, it turned to one of the best white wine making areas in the world: the communes of Puligny-Montrachet, Blagny, and Corpeau. In the area’s best chardonnay wines, every element of quality is intensified: They are a radiant golden color; with the nose in the glass we get lasting hints of vanilla and hazelnuts; and on the tongue a persistence and succulence of these notes combined with a hint of butter, green apple, soft touches of honey, and a complexity of other notes that are incomparable and lasting.
St. Vincent is, of course, the patron saint of winemakers, and he has been celebrated in the Burgundy region since medieval times. This is, fundamentally, a religious festival, for a region blessed with some of the world’s best terroir and an exceptional tradition of winemakers that allow this blessing to come to fruition. With increasing concern for the environment among winemakers, 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 provide our winemaker alchemists with the material to produce the golden wines of the Puligny-Montrachet grand cru, and the excellent premier cru and local (village) wines.
In the typically elegant but sober and modest tradition of Burgundy, the logo for the festival, found on all of the tasting glasses, was a cabotte, “a small circular cabin traditionally used for storing material and finding refuge from bad weather.” An actual 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 of their promotional material; this festival has been in Puligny-Montrachet every 30 years since 1961. They would like to continue to emphasize this very special tradition of the date for their village.
Pro Tip: The city at the center of activity for this festival every year is Beaune. Few cities in the world will have the tradition and history of excellent wine that you will find here. You will also find an assortment of hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs. The choice of restaurants is also extensive and excellent.
2. The Entire Town(s) Shut Down
This year, the festival involved three neighboring villages. As usual, the various entrance gates into the villages were closed to traffic, and attendees bought a tasting kit for 20 euros. These can often be reserved ahead of time 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 carrier (for around your neck), a map of the villages, and tickets for six tastings.
With the tasting glass around your neck, you will walk through village streets full of joyful visitors. There are multiple points of music and a variety of street artists on your walk connecting the wine cellars. This year six varieties for tasting were offered at the entrance: Burgundy Côte d’Or White 2018, Burgundy Côte d’Or Red 2018, Puligny-Montrachet 2017, Puligny-Montrachet 2018, Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru 2018, and a mystery vintage to test you and to puzzle over.
The first festivities are always local and religious, so it can be best to arrive mid to late morning, and then think of slow food and slow tasting. Enjoy each step with the other revelers. There are catering possibilities, and this is Burgundy, with excellent food, all well matched with the wines. There was also, in necessary French fashion, a mobile bakery with pastries. Spread throughout these three beautiful villages, and the connecting roads, there were 125 artists: bandstands, fanfares, craftsmen and women, 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 upon a bed of stone, so there are few caves built underground. The winemakers’ “caves” are generally above ground. In traditional Burgundy style, these are modest in appearance, but anything but modest in the quality of the wines. So visitors move, with a river of like-minded wine lovers, from one winemaker to another. In addition to the six wines offered with the wine kit given at the entrance, there were 11 official places to have a tasting, with restaurants and bistros along the way as well. The March weather was exceptional in warmth this year, as was the atmosphere among the visitors as we enjoyed live music, a variety of artisans, and an exceptional array of food. The festival is usually the third weekend of January, so preparation for colder weather is often necessary.
Pro Tip: The festival can require a lot of walking, often in a crowd and on uneven village streets. Anyone with restricted mobility will need to investigate the location in any given year and think about how to manage these challenges. There will always be street cafés to provide a seat, and a glass, or bottle, of wine.
4. The Future
Burgundy is so rich in wine tradition and creation that each new year can, and does, create another special reason to come to this event.
Following a year in exceptional white wine territory, the master of the Brotherhood of The Knights of Tastevin announced during the weekend of this year’s festival that 2023’s will be in Couchey (a village adjacent to Dijon) and will return to the traditional third weekend of January.
So the Saint-Vincent Tournante Wine Festival turns to the northernmost village in the Côte de Nuit. Couchey has the special distinction of being the only village in Burgundy with the three colors of wine — white, rosé, and red — with AOC village labels of wine quality. From this northern head of Côte de Nuit, there is a tail of the best red wines in Burgundy, 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 connect geographically and in name, with the region this year (Côte de Beaune) being within what is called collectively the Côte d’Or, or the “Gold Coast” of wine. Worldwide, 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 truly improve, tremendously, in quality and value with age.
All of the wines of the Côte de Nuit are said to have “muscle and strength,” but they all, as well, age to a balance of velvety tannins and wonderful complexity. From the subtle, soft power of Marsannay wines, with possibilities of rosé, the wine offerings will add tannin, depth, and potential for aging as they move towards the south in Nuits-Saint-George.
So next year we can look forward to 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 turn from one village to another in this Côte d’Or, a wine lover’s heaven.
There is so much here to enjoy, but be sure to take some home with you. For any wine buying in Burgundy, it is helpful to understand the specific wine quality categorization system of the region. This site will help you understand the differences between grands crus, premiers crus, and village and regional wines.