La Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin: Bacchanalia in Burgundy
Beaune, located in the heart of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or region and celebrated for its vineyards, brings a twinkle to the eyes of wine enthusiasts. It is also famed as the seat for La Confrérie des Chevaliers des Tastevin or “Brotherhood of the Knights of the Winetasting Cup.”
Since its creation in 1934, the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin has undertaken the task of promoting Burgundian produce, notably the great wines and regional cuisine, preserving and reviving the festivities, customs and traditions of Burgundian folklore, and encouraging tourism in the region. This exclusive wine and gastronomic society was founded as the renaissance of an old Bacchic brotherhood from the Middle Ages. It has over 12,000 members worldwide, known as chevaliers. Some years ago, I had the honor and privilege of witnessing a dear friend’s induction as a member.
The induction festivities take place every year on the third weekend of November to coincide with the annual Hospices de Beaune wine auction. The gathering takes place at the headquarters of the Confrérie, the spectacular Château du Clos de Vougeot, a historical masterpiece built in the 12th century by monks from the nearby abbey of Cîteaux. Instructed by official Confrérie crested invites that obligatory dress was “black tie and long evening dresses”, we arrived in our finest attire to the grandeur of this illuminated fairytale château.
We were welcomed to the cobblestoned courtyard with silver trays of sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne and then proceeded to an anteroom in the château to watch the installation ceremony unfold. With French horns heralding the arrival of the inductees, the ceremony began with a solemn procession of officers of the Confrérie, resplendent in ornate crimson and gold flowing robes similar to the academic gowns worn by Doctors of Theology in 16th century France. The event was conducted with the ultimate taste and decorum.
Vows were taken as the following sentence was pronounced “Par Noé, Père de la Vigne, Par Bacchus, Dieu du Vin, Par Saint-Vincent, Patron des Vignerons, Nous vous armons Chevalier du Tastevin.” (Through Noah, father of vines, Bacchus, god of wine, Saint Vincent, patron of winemakers, We make you Knight of Tastevin). I watched, mesmerized by the pomp and circumstance, as each candidate bowed their head and a silver tastevin (wine-tasting cup) dangling from a crimson and gold ribbon was placed around their necks. The candidates were knighted with a petrified grapevine root from Burgundy, kissed on both cheeks, and directed to sign their names into a register before they joined the processional past awestruck guests.
With great fanfare, French horns sounded and 600 guests were brought together in the enormous 12th-century cellar filled with long rows of narrow tables decked out for a long evening of festivities. Served on silver platters, the six-course dinner with exquisite wine pairings resembled an elaborate medieval banquet fit for a king. The service was precisely timed, with waiters at the end of each table awaiting a signal from the Maître d’Hôtel before serving all 600 of us simultaneously.
I had to pace myself for the rollicking evening ahead as the feasting went on and on. As the first course arrived we linked arms and swayed from side to side, joining in the merry-making and revelry, led by Les Cadets de Bourgogne in a traditional Burgundian sing-a-long that grew more raucous as the evening progressed. All notions of the stuffy, proper wine society evaporated. The event captured the essence of Burgundy’s joie de vivre.
The Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin traces the noble and storied history of wine to the Bible where the word “wine” is mentioned over 400 times. The members celebrate the wonders of wine as a “gift from heaven and the fruit of man’s work” expressing the beautiful, great and true. The words of the universal language of Brotherhood sing of wine as a symbol of happiness and joy, with a sense of balance and good measure.
Believing that wine is so much more than an accompaniment to enhance a delicious meal, their goal is to raise one’s glass, not just to drink it, but to honor their ethos, “He is not good, who strives not to be better” as stated by Saint Bernard. In the spirit of hospitality, generosity and warmth, they follow their motto, “Jamais en vain, Toujours en vin.” (Never in Vain, Always in Wine). I’ll drink to that!
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