Celebrate the Saint Vincent Wine Festival. Meursault is a small village 40 minutes away from Dijon by train.

January 8, 2011

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St. Vincent Wine Festival Meursault, January 2001

We spent Saturday the 27th of January in Meursault, France to celebrate the Saint Vincent Wine Festival. Meursault is a small village 40 minutes away from Dijon by train. Jeff and I met our friend Steve at the gare at 10am and we made the 1011 train to Beaune, from where we would board a shuttle bus to Meursault. The train was full when we arrived a few minutes before its scheduled departure. You don’t reserve seats on these trains, so we picked the least over-crowded car and hopped on. We had standing-room only space near the restroom, and we were packed in like sardines. When people heard our American English it prompted a few people to begin discussing our new President amongst themselves. We also heard some English accents around the corner from where we stood. It seemed they were on a tour of Burgundy if their matching navy blue hats saying “Burgundy 2001” were any indication. At our one quick stop on the way to Beaune, we even managed to get a few more people in our section. I am always surprised that lack of personal space here isn’t an issue. It’s like prime real estate; don’t let any unused inch go to waste. And you’d think such a cramped atmosphere would make people stay still. Not so! A very ripe man needed to use the restroom, and didn’t care how he would get there as long as he got there. I thought there was no way he would get by, but somehow we all compressed ourselves enough into the windows so he could pass. He passed, but his smell remained. I made a mental note: check next time for an empty bathroom when boarding over-crowded trains. Maybe there is a seat left, after all!
When we arrived at the Beaune station, we were greeted with a surprise rain shower. Strange, since the sun was still shining. I was prepared, and pulled out my super-compact umbrella. Deboarding, and protected from the big raindrops(well, at least I was), we followed the mob to the shuttle bus pickup area and realized we needed to purchase tickets before boarding the busses that people were pushing towards to get out of the rain. A plan was in order. Jeff and I waited and sent Steve into the crowd to get tickets. However, after 15 minutes of waiting under my umbrella, we realized there were no more tickets! Steve came back, and we just looked at each other with blank stares. The buses just sat there as people got wet. Hmmm. What now?
Eventually the festival workers thought to simply charge us before we boarded. Eureka! We were already standing near a bus, but with about 200 people wanting the same thing, we had a challenge ahead of us. Jeff and Steve pushed their way onto a bus, and left me behind. I was fiddling with my umbrella, trying to shut it while getting closer to the bus door. The bus was filling up quickly, and for a moment I didn’t think I would make it. But just as it started raining harder, I got a foot up on the first step. Success! I managed to get one of the last standing-only area positions left on one of the three buses currently available. In the middle of this, someone’s umbrella got stuck in my hair, partially pulling it loose from its barrette. To say I looked like a drowned rat would be a compliment. Of course, if I was French I would just be chic.
We had a slow drive to Meursault due to the heavy traffic. As we got closer to Meursault, I noticed that roads were only open to buses, and the police were enforcing this decision. We made it a mile or so further than car traffic when our bus turned down a rocky muddy path through a vineyard. My hopes to reach blacktop disappeared when the bus came to an abrupt halt before the village. We stepped out onto slick mud, careful not to fall. The good news: it had stopped raining. I was still in a good mood though, excited about the experience, and hoping to get some good photos. I’ll probably never attend another St. Vincent festival in my lifetime, unless they come to the vineyards of Atlanta.

This small village will host 40,000 visitors this year for the 58th annual St. Vincent festival. Every year features a different wine-producing village. St. Vincent, the patron saint of good harvest, is celebrated with flair. There are patron saints for everything in France, and the naming of them in these small villages goes back hundreds of years. This being the 58th annual St. Vincent festival, you’d think festival organizers would have figured out the bus ticket thing. But I digress. People come to this annual event from all around the world, and walking around we heard Dutch, German, many Englanders, and met some Belgians as well. The weekend-long festival includes 21 caves to taste wine, as well as expositions and art. The entire village participates. Womens groups start making hand-made paper flowers of all kinds almost a year in advance. They are attached with wire to their non-winter blooming stems to give the illusion of Spring in Winter. As we walked through the charming village, spirits high with everyone’s merriment, I kept glancing at the windows of the townspeople’s homes, thinking if I lived there I would be tempted to just sit and watch people. I’m sure they are out celebrating though. It isn’t every day that their famous wine village hosts the hoards. Some of whom, I think, attend just to get really, really knockered with their buddies for 40f.
Once we entered the village, we each purchased a souvenir glass which costs 40f. It is a regular wine glass, with the logo for the 2001 festival printed on it. I asked about the neck-holders I’d seen people wearing, but, unfortunately, they were already sold out. On the first day, and in the morning no less! Their planners aren’t planning very well! These holders were ingenious to me, and amusing. Many people had them, those that were in the know prior to this event. These devices consisted of a strap that rested around the neck, and a wood piece with a circle cut out of it — a circle just the right size so you could keep your full glass in it and still have both hands free! Now, mind you, this wood one I speak of was the official Meursault design. Others were sporting the bottoms of plastic Evian bottles with crude cords attached. Some just tied a string around the stem and let it hang. Once we had purchased our glasses, we could try all the wine we wanted at all 21 caves for no extra charge. And this was GOOD wine. We only made it to five of the caves, having a couple 1/4 glasses at each. We found lots of happy drunks singing and laughing. In France it seems this alcohol-induced atmosphere only creates a more open and friendly people. Before we got too jovial though, we decided to get some food.
After enjoying a foie gras sandwich, we trekked up a big hill behind the village to reach one vineyard, where we were treated to a lovely view of the village from the vines. From our vantage point, I can imagine how beautiful it will be in the summer, with all the now-grey vines becoming green and lush. On the walk back down, Steve noticed a “shortcut”: a wet mud pit disguised as a path. My black shoes turned brown quickly, and the quicksand-like mud tried several times to claim them as their own. Somehow I managed to slide/hobble/babystep down the incline without falling head-first. As I reached the bottom, Steve looked at my now muddy shoes and jeans, and he managed to convince me that this French mud was just like Colorado mud, which he knows well, and that once the French mud dries it would simply flake off into a nice, neat pile near my garbage can. So, naturally, I was intrigued about this species of mud. Imagine my surprise when it took quite a bit of elbowgrease and time to get that mud off everything! I told Steve, and he now conceeds that French mud is tougher than Colorado mud. Is there a lesson in there somewhere?
Laughing at our muddy selves, we continued to walk, enjoying the piped-in jazz and blues music playing throughout the streets. After six hours of walking and drinking, we treated ourselves to a merguez sausage sandwich and an oozing chocolate crepe before heading to the buses. France. Not too shabby. As soon as we boarded and found seats, the clouds rolled in and the rain came down. Aren’t we lucky!

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