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Fête de la Fleur: Bordeaux's Flower Festival

French Wine Explorers | Friday, Jun 26th 2009
fete de la fleur

Each year in June in Bordeaux the flowering of the vines is celebrated with a major event in the region’s social calendar: the Fête de la Fleur, or Flower Festival.

This is a gala dinner organized by the Commanderie du Bontemps du Médoc et des Graves, the winemakers’ fraternity for these two regions on Bordeaux’s Left Bank. Here local châteaux owners and others in the local wine trade invite professionals from around the world to enjoy an evening of Bordeaux hospitality at its finest.

This has traditionally been a movable feast: since it was first staged over 40 years ago, a different château in the Médoc or Graves–usually a classed growth–is chosen to host the event. From its origins as a simple garden party, the Fête has evolved into an elaborate affair.

One of the evening’s highlights is the Commanderie’s induction ceremony. Each year scores of personalities from the world of wine, entertainment, politics and the arts are invited to don ermine robes and become honorary members of the fraternity.

This festival comes at a key time in the winemaking year, when the quality of the coming vintage may be determined months in advance of the harvest.

When spring has been free of weather-related problems such as an unusually-timed start to the growing season, the grape vine will produce small bunches of flowers around the beginning of the month. This is when pollination occurs, but visitors need not fear clouds of bees throughout the vineyards because the vine is self-pollinating. (Vine flowers have no nectar, so bees have no interest in them.)

The reason flowering is so important is that each pollinated flower will become a grape; each bunch of flowers will become a bunch of grapes. This offers an early clue to a vintage’s quality because the better the flowering, the better the grapes–and the wine made from them.

In a couple of weeks, growers will stroll among their vines and look at how the newly-developing grape clusters are developing and how regular the berries are in size. This gives winemakers two important pieces of information: first, the potential size of the harvest in the fall; second, the probable date when picking will begin since it is an average of 100 days from the flowering to the harvest.

Still, it all comes back to the vines. After winter’s dormancy and the first shoots of early spring, the region’s vineyards finally develop into elegant rows of vines stretching out to the horizon–the classic image of the Bordeaux landscape.

If you ever want to get an early line on the quality of a coming vintage, don’t wait until October to see what the weather was like during picking; instead, look at how successful the flowering was in June. Better yet, come to Bordeaux and experience the season by visiting the region’s vineyards and châteaux. Consider it a standing invitation.

Have you attended the Fête de la Fleur? Would you like to? Comment below!

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