Everyone loves a party and when the theme is ‘celebration of wine’ then a good crowd is assured. Festivals celebrating local produce, the harvest and wines are prolific throughout France, and they are a heady mix of tradition, heritage and local values. Celebration of wine, specifically, is just a part of the event.
The wine harvest is in the autumn, though this will vary according to the growing season and the style of wines involved. Certain sweet wines are made from grapes picked later, sometime with the first frosts, to concentrate the natural sugars.
Wine festivals are centred around wine and its production, of course. But typically the festivals are very approachable, and tourists are welcome to take part in the festivities and enjoy the local colour, the music and copious local specialities on offer. So if you see a sign for a wine festival on your travels, don’t hesitate to get involved.
Vitiloire - Late May
The Loire region is a major wine producer, much of it centred around Tours. There are some big names from the wine world: Chinon, Bourgeuil to the west, the fruity reds of St Nicolas de Bourgeuil, and the dry or sweet whites of Vouvray and Montlouis. The sweet whites can be incredibly long-lived, while the reds, made traditionally from the cabernet franc grape with its distinctive tobacco box fragrance, or the lighter, juicier gamay.
Growers here have a fierce pride in their respective products, and they descend on Tours for this festival to taste, swagger, commiserate and generally check out the competition. Expect tastings, workshops, street markets and a busy weekend of plentiful food and wine.
With a similar mix of grape varieties and styles as neighbouring Touraine, Saumur is known for its red Saumur Champigny but also its well-regarded and good-value sparkling wines, made in the méthode traditionelle and stored underground in miles of tunnels carved from the soft tuffeau.
Any excuse and the bustling town of Saumur, dominated by its distinctive chateau overlooking the ancient streets, bursts into life with a festival. Festivini is as good an excuse as any and is held for a whole week.
It’s as much about the joys of visiting the area as about the wine alone, but who cares? Enjoy the concerts that are put on, accompany the guided walks, hop on one of the river cruises or take a bike tour through vineyards and wine villages. Wine, in some form, will be with you all day, culminating in a lavish dinner at the Abbaye de Fontevraud on the last night.
Muscadet is the chief appellation of the Pays Nantais on the western edge of the Loire Valley. Dry, crisp and refreshing, Muscadet is produced in huge quantities and is traditionally the ideal pairing with a mountain of seafood, particularly the theatrical plateau de fruits de mer.
A slightly unusual festival in that it is a wine-based event which aims to appeal to a family audience. With an attitude that reflects the commonly held view of wine as a way of life, the festival lays on competitions for children, cooking workshops and fun activities like boat trips and excursions. Adult tastes, and interests are accommodated by wine tastings and more serious wine tours.
The wines of Alsace have long been more popular in France than the UK, perhaps with consumers assuming the contents of the German-style bottles contain sweetish wine. On the contrary, Alsace varietal wines like the Gewürtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Blanc are superbly fruity, floral, sometimes almost spicy wines that have real character, unlike any other French wine.
A truly venerable festival, this has been an annual event in everyone’s diary for over a century. This is the Central HQ of the wine villages of Alsace, the epicentre of these gloriously fragrant wines, and the festival reflects that.
It’s a pretty, floral place on a regular day, but the wine festival sees a colourful parade pass through the streets with creatively bedecked floats celebrating different aspects of the local wines and the vendange or harvest. With plenty of hearty Alsace fare on offer, expect a couple of days of excess.
Not far from the Spanish border at the foothills of the Pyrenees, Banyuls wines are best known as sweet, intensely flavoured vins doux naturels, drunk as an aperitif or with dessert.
The festival was established with the aim of celebrating the unique wines of Banyuls and handing on the baton of production and know-how to future generations. Wines are served in copious amounts, of course, but there’s also plenty of seafood.
Although not known for wine production, Paris does have a small vineyard in Montmartre. Being one of the most visited capital cities in the world has its advantages, and attendance figures are sky high with visitors keen to take advantage of the music, the parade and of course, the novelty of tasting wines from Paris.
The Chardonnay grape thrives here, and of all Burgundian regions, it is slightly out on a limb, being closer to Sancerre and Paris than the Côte de Nuits.
This festival is one for real aficionados who flock here to celebrate one of the wine world’s greatest names. With its flinty, fruity appeal, this doyenne of Burgundy is worth the effort: the new vintage is sampled, as well as the older wines, along with vineyard tours and local speciality foods.
Beaujolais Nouveau was once a big deal in the UK, with teams racing back in the dead of night to deliver the freshest, youngest bottles of the new vintage. Of course, it was primarily a marketing exercise but was rooted in the theory that these wines (unoaked) were fruity and light enough to produce a wine that was ready to be drunk immediately – in fact, it was made to be drunk as early as possible. In London brasseries and elsewhere, Beaujolais Nouveau was often served at breakfast with a decent bacon sandwich.
Although the ‘moment’ of international demand may have long gone, in Beaujeu, the winemakers still race to produce the wine for the festival, held on the third Thursday of November. It remains an exciting moment with fireworks and a torch procession to mark the occasion.
Russell has worked in the camping industry for over 28 years and was a director at Alan Rogers for many of them.
He now works for various tourism organisations as a marketing consultant but continues to write top-quality content for us. His content often covers European and worldwide travel, arts and culture, and history.
I well remember visiting the Dordogne (as we British usually refer to it) for the first time and feeling I’d discovered a little piece of paradise. There was so much to take in and everything seemed just so, well, perfect.
From Château d’Anet in the North to Culan in the South, they offer some of the most spectacular architecture in the world. A magnificent illustration of French thought and design, each of the Loire châteaux tells a story of the region.