From the early Middle Ages until the general distribution of refrigeration, food in France was stored in salt, pork or duck fat, (fruit) alcohol or dried.
Food did not keep very well. There were lots of illnesses during the winter months due to poor conservation. Meals were often scarce and were always washed down with a glass or two of wine, diluted or not, to kill any bacteria and aid the digestion. (In northern parts they washed food down with ales).
At the end of the long winter, food was beginning to taste very, very ropey; as were the wines. There were no modern methods of storing wines in those days and it was invariably oxidized and sour. So they added honey, spices and herbs to give it some palatable flavouring.
By early spring, the new wines, which had been harvested the previous autumn, were just beginning to be really good. They were young, fruity, easily drinkable, palatable and above all pleasurable!
So, from the Saint Vincent (end January) patron Saint of wine growers, to Easter there was much jubilation and celebration of the new wines. People could eat, drink and be merry again in the knowledge that the worst of the winter was over and spring on its way.
The end of February is the time we have our “Grandgousiers” celebration.
The full name of the Grandgousiers is “La Confrérie des Compagnons de Grandgousier”. This translates as « The Fraternity of the Companions of Grandgousier ». It is a fraternity, or brotherhood, or guild, whose sole purpose is to promote the wines of Touraine sector Chaumont and Touraine-Mesland.
The character, Grandgousier, was a giant in the book by Rabelais, Gargantua (1534), who liked peace, easy living and all things good in life. His son, at birth, opened his eyes, felt thirsty and asked for a drink!
Our promotion is basically a big lunch once a year. The lunch takes place on the last Sunday in February.
Sunday morning Mass is held in the local church and all the winegrowers give thanks for the good, new wines by offering bottles of it to the vicar.
After Mass we proceed around the little town with our musicians, dressed in all our splendid robes, dispensing cake (brioche) to the locals and inviting them to the next step which is the enthronisations or enthronements.
Anyone who is deemed to have promoted our wines over the year can be enthroned, (accepted into the Guild) but he must be supported by one of the board. A short synopsis of his life is read out in front of the audience. He must then swear to drink at least 100 bottles of our best cru every year and generally adopt our wines as his own.
The enthronements are humorous and light-hearted. The enthroned person then gets a sash, a plastic bunch of grapes to wear around his neck, a diploma and a few bottles of wine.
There are usually about 20 enthronements. When they are over we all go and have an aperitif accompanied by a small selection of wines and some local rillettes which are pork scratchings mixed with pork fat and made into a sort of pâté. It is really lovely. It sounds rich and greasy. It is not.
Then we go to our local “Relais-Château” hotel and restaurant and continue our slap-up lunch which lasts from 1pm to about 8pm. Our local Relais-Chateau’s restaurant has 2* Michelin stars. The lunch is FABULOUS!
There are 4 courses interspersed with little nibblies of exquisitely prepared “things”. The wines have been carefully selected to properly match each dish.
When lunch is over, anyone who feels like it can then go on to dance the night away.
And the French do… They can pasa doble, and waltz, and tango, and cha-cha-cha, and rock-and-roll, all to the music of our small band whose main instrument is …the accordion.
First published February 2008