Ban des Vendages or Jurade de Saint-Emilion is a celebration of wine harvest and heritage of the medieval town of Saint-Emilion. Usually held in late fall or at the start of harvest season, the Jurade (Ambassadors of the wines of Saint-Emilion) organizes the festival and lead a parade through town in their traditional crimson robes. Ban de Vendage literally translates to "lifting the ban of the harvest", in other words, putting an end to the period during which grapes-picking was forbidden.
Historically, the Jurade was originally set up as a quest for quality and the experts were sent into the vineyards to ensure the grapes had reached optimal ripeness. This tradition was founded more than 800 year ago where the Jurade would decide when the picking and harvest would begin. It was said that John Lackland, King of England created the Jurade of Saint-Emilion as the walled city was an important spiritual center at the time and the church was also responsible for overlooking the production and making of wine.
They played a central role in winegrowing issues. The institution, thus, overlooks the production and crafting of wines and possesses the “hot stamp of the winemaker” that is embossed on each barrel. Guarantors of quality, the members of the Jurade control against abuses or fraud and ensure the destruction of wine that is judged unworthy. In this manner the city of Saint-Emilion was prosperous by virtue of the development of its commerce. Currently the Jurade is composed of approximately 120 Jurats that are Winegrowers, Wine Merchants or public figures that are working for the reputation and renown of Saint-Emilion around the world.
During the parade of the Jurade, the red velveted robes can be seen as they wind their way along the town's cobblestone streets. There is a strict ceremonial protocol that is followed during the parade. The Master of Ceremonies will lead the way, followed by the Standard Bearer and the Grand Vintner, the keeper of the Jurade's brand. Then comes the Chancellors, the Ladies of the Jurade, the Jurats and the First Jurat and the the guests of honor. Finally the Honorary First Jurats and their Deputies join the procession, followed by new Jurats and inductees. They follow the same route that their predecessors have done and proclaim the start of the harvest. This is quite a tradition and a sight to see.
Saint Emilion is a town that is known for its wines and macarons. 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.
If you are planning a stop in Bordeaux on your next trip, don't forget to include Saint Emilion as a must see ancient town filled with wine history. The special macarons alone are worth the trip as these are only made in the city and can't be found elsewhere. Its a secret recipe.
Photo credit: Vins Saint Emilion and Nadia Fermigier