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How Burgundy Winemakers Threw Parties to Beat the Great Depression

For nearly 100 years the end of November has seen Burgundy transform into a Mecca for winelovers from across the world. The celebration of Les Trois Gloriueses (three glorious days) held over the third weekend of November features the world’s most renowned Hospice de Beaune wine charity auction, with celebrations in the centre of Beaune and a formal dinner at the Chateau du Clos de Vougeot. This estate is home to the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin fraternity founded in 1934 that has had French presidents as members to promote everything about Burgundy and its wines. The special dinner is where new Chevaliers are inducted into the Confrérie!  

Most fascinating is how it began during the darkest depths of the French Great Depression.

The Great Depression in France 

France managed to escape the immediate effects of the Great Depression, before the economy crashed from 1931. Unemployment ruined many young French workers. Their plight was captured in the 1960 book Chroniques du Canard:

"The winter I spent on the streets - the winter of '32-33 - was no milder nor harder than any other winter; the winter cold is like labour pains - whether it lasts for a longer or shorter period of time there is always the same amount of pain. That particular winter, it snowed and it froze; thousands of young men, forced out of their jobs by the crisis, struggled on to their last penny, to the end of their tether then, in despair, abandoned the fight... On street benches and at métro entrances, groups of exhausted and starving young men would be trying not to die. I don't know how many never came round. I can only say what I saw. In the rue Madame one day I saw a child drop a sweet which someone trod on, then the man behind bent down and picked it up, wiped it and ate it."

Harsh economic effects partially contributed to brutal anti-parliamentarist demonstrations during which police shot and killed 15 protestors in Paris. Meanwhile, in the east of France, Burgundy winemakers were watching their world-class wines gather dust in the cellar. 

So the story goes, two Burgundians from Nuits-Saint-Georges saw it as a cause for celebration. 

The 6 February 1934 riots organised by far-right leagues were in part due to France's economic depression

Founding the Fraternity of Knights of the Wine-Tasters' Cup

George Faiveley and Camille Rodier saw something deeply wrong about wines being locked away when the towns were in need of a good drink. So in 1934 they founded the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin (Fraternity of Knights of the Wine-Tasters' Cup) whose members wore red robes and silver tastevins hung around their necks. Oh, and they threw parties in members’ wine cellars with all their friends invited to share the fruits of their hard labour, accompanied with great food, singing, witty speeches and the satirical knighting of new members with grape vines. 

The Confrérie’s website records the Burgundians’ famous founding mission statement:

"Wines of a quality such as ours are a cause for joy and optimism. So enough moaning! Since our cellars are full to the brim, let's empty them - and we can invite our friends to help us!”

Two of the Confrérie’s most significant events have continued until today. These include the annual travelling Saint Vincente Tournante wine festival in January and Les Trois Glorieueses in November. The Saint Vincente Tournante was created to unite 80 Burgundy social associations, in which winemakers provide free mutual aid for those suffering illness or misfortune. Les Trois Gloriueses consists of three days, covering a tasting event at the Confrérie’s Chateau Clos de Vougeot, a charity auction event in aid of a local hospital, and a final celebration at Chateau Mersault in Mersault, Burgundy. 

What’s fascinating is the Confrérie’s dedication to protecting tradition. For example, the charity auction is still in aid of the Hospices de Beaune, which were charitable almshouses built in 1443 to help the people of Beaune following a plague. The hospital acquired vineyards to help pay for its service to the poor, and it is wine from 61 hectares of these Grand and Premier cru classified vineyards that are auctioned off each year during Les Trois Glorieueses.

Hospital care is now provided in modern facilities, but in 2020 some €780,000 raised during the auction was used to set up an aid fund for hospital workers and their families affected by the Covid crisis.

For five hundred years the Hospices de Beaune have managed some of Burgundy's most famous vineyards. In 2017, the annual auction raised close to €19 million for the hospital.

Becoming a Member of the Confrérie

Today the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin counts some 12,000 members in 75 sub-chapters across the world. Our very own Principal, Charmaine was invited to be a member and inaugurated in 2009.  

The significance will soon become clear: A Chardonnay from Margaret River was what brought Charmaine’s parents, Mac & Ann, to this special part of Australia. How did they come to taste the wine? After a Sydney sommelier apologised they had run out of Mac's favourite Meursault from Chateau Meursault and suggested a local equivalent.  

The Confrérie’s founding mission was to foster positivity during a period of darkness, and its resulting traditions have placed Burgundy firmly on the winelover’s map of the world. It’s a fantastic story of how hope can triumph over despair. It is the celebratory spirit of the Confrérie’s founders we strive to bring to all our wines, and all the dinner tables touched by our Margaret River wines. 

Newly inaugurated at the Chateau Clos de Vougeot in 2009.

Savouring a celebration?

It has been our dream to create a luxurious Margaret River Chardonnay. You can purchase two of our award-winning vintages below:

Try our 2018 Chardonnay, which won 94 points from James Halliday.

Try our 2014 Chardonnay, which won 96 points from James Halliday.