I have had the great honour of being made a Prud’homme de la Jurade de Saint-Emilion and I am absolutely delighted. A Prud’homme de la Jurade is a Counsellor and the Jurade de Saint-Emilion is an ancient brotherhood of wine.
For those of you who haven’t heard of the Jurade before let me explain its history. The Jurade dates back precisely to 8 July 1199, when the Falaise Charter was signed by John Lackland, King of England (and brother to Richard the Lionheart) who controlled the Aquitaine region of France. The charter confirmed the rights of the burghers of Saint-Emilion to administer their town and the freedoms and privileges that accompanied them. In 1289, in the reign of Edward I, these legal, administrative and economic powers were extended to the parishes of the Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion, hence the name “Jurade“.
Wine being a major concern of this monastic city, the Jurade controlled the production and consumption of wine as it controlled everything else. It oversaw the production of “fine” wines, kept the iron that branded every single barrel, combated fraud and abusive practices and destroyed wine that was judged unworthy of the name.
All this continued until the French Revolution, ensuring prosperity for the town and firmly establishing the reputation of the wines of Saint-Emilion, proclaimed the “King of Wines” in England and “Nectar of the Gods” by Louis XIV.
Nowadays the Jurade is principally a promotional body for the winemakers rather than a controlling body – this is done by the quasi-government INAOC (Institute National d’Appellation Controllée). The Jurade is mainly concerned with supporting the image of St. Emilion’s wines throughout the world.
As with the other major brotherhoods of wine, the Jurade has many thousands of associates in various chapters throughout the world in addition to the members and 50-strong governing council in St. Emilion itself. “Chapters” or festive dinners are held by the Jurade for special occasions in various countries, where tastings and ceremonial inductions of new members are organized to further the exposure of St. Emilion’s wines.
Revived in 1948, the current Jurade takes its inspiration from the charges and privileges granted over the centuries. Every year, it proclaims the “Jugement du Vin Nouveau” on the third Sunday in June and the “Ban des Vendanges” (the start of the harvesting) on the third Sunday in September. All over the world it organizes tastings and induction ceremonies for the greater glory and prosperity of the wines of Saint-Emilion. Several chancelleries have been opened abroad: London and York in England, in Flanders and Wallonia for Belgium, and in Texas for the whole of North America.
Composed of a maximum of 54 Jurats, it is run by the Conseil de la Jurade which has 12 members. The uniform is a simple red robe with a white, pleated jabot, white turn-ups at the bottom of the sleeves a white cape and hood. The Jurats wear a red toque. The Premier Jurat’s robe is faced lengthwise with ermine on the front. If the Jurats do not wear their robe, on their shoulder they will have the red and white sash bearing the Jurade medal.
I attended the Induction Ceremony on 16th June at the Fête de Printemps de la Jurade, with Sue, and there were people there from all walks of life who had been nominated to join the ranks of the Jurade. I had been nominated by Jean François Julien – an old friend and a superb vintner. His new wine is named after his little daughter – Château Julien Mathilde.
What struck me was how gracious and stately the whole procedure was. The atmosphere was quiet and reverent and I realised how very important this was to everyone from the attendants helping us with our robes to the Conseil de Jurade themselves. It was quite emotional as you were caught up in the great passion that everyone had for their wine.
The ceremony took place in the ancient church in the centre of Saint-Emilion. The walls had been built out of the warm ochre coloured limestone excavated from the myriad of catacombs that run below ground linking the medieval houses. As your title was awarded to you in the candlelight 2 bells rang out and you had the eerie feeling that you had become part of an act that has been going on for centuries – you could almost sense the generations of vintners from the past gathered round you.
After the ceremony came the celebration and the meal that we sat down to was excellent. A small forest of glasses nestled amongst the gleaming porcelain on the tables in preparation for sampling the wines. Some of those being fêted were Tertre de Sarpe 2003, Côtes Rocheuses 2003, Clos de la Cure 2001, Château Grand Mayne 2000, Château La Couspaude 1998, Clos de l’Orartoire 1998, Château Magelaine 1998, Château Beau Séjour Bécot, 1996 and Château Cheval Blanc 1995.
Over our heads a dancer hung suspended from the cloister ceiling dressed in the red of the Jurade and I must admit that the whole day was one of ancient splendour combined with the true camaraderie of like minded souls. It will be a day I will never forget.
Images courtesy of www.flickr.com