Ban des Vendanges de St. Emilion (or Jurade de Saint Emilion) is not a place, but a special event held annually in medieval Saint-Emilion in the famous wine region of Bordeaux, France. It marks the beginning of the grape harvest, a special event for this part of France that is known for its excellent wines. It usually starts between the first and third week of the month of September. It really depends on the weather – the warmth and coolness of the air also affects the ripening of the grapes. Wineries wait for the grapes to fully ripen under the sun. Also, winegrowers count 100 days from the date of the flowering of the vine to determine the time of harvest.
Les vendanges (or harvest) is when the vineyards come alive as the ripe grapes are picked and brought to the wineries. Prior to this, the wine vats are prepared, the grapes tested for acidity and all things are done to ensure the quality of the grapes.
Saint Emilion is a town that is known for its wines and its macaroons. It is also a World Heritage site, as it is a town that is replete with history – ruins, Romanesque churches, golden stone structures and wine cellars intermingle to create a fascinating cultural landscape. The vineyards are ancient, dating back to as early as the 2nd century. The Romans planted a number of these vineyards.
The historical hilltop village itself is named after Emilion, a monk who founded a hermitage in the area. The succeeding monks were the ones who started producing wine commercially.
Saint Emilion wine is dubbed the 'Wine of Honor' because of its quality. Monarchs have also been known to call it the 'King of Wines'.
The Ban des Vendanges start when the members of the Jurade (those that are responsible for ensuring the quality of the Saint Emilion wines) make their proclamation as to the start of the harvest. The Jurade is a local organization that also has the task of promoting their wine around the world. The Jurade is one of the oldest institutions in the world.
The proclamation by the Jurats is made during the festival. The proclamation signals to the hundreds of wine pickers that they can now collect the grapes. This is a time of bustling activity, with trucks laden with grapes coming to and fro the vineyards and on to the wineries.
Before the proclamation, however, there is a Latin mass celebrated in the Collegial Church. Then, new members of the Jurade are inducted inside the monolithic church – the church that is carved from stone. There is also a parade of the Jurats. The sight of the red velvet-robed Jurats wending their way along the town's cobblestone streets is simple enchanting. The celebration of the Ban des Vandanges de Saint Emilion harks back to 1611, so you can really see how the ceremonies are layered with tradition and history.
There is also a banquet in the evening, where fine wine (from Saint Emilion, of course) flows and the food is just as unforgettable. So, mark September on your calendars, and if you are blessed to be in the area at that time, be sure to come and celebrate. Be there as they toast to good food and good wine!