Absent material ambition, instead of studying law, which was mostly as dull as dishwater, I would happily have lost myself in the history of Wales, its famous warrior Prince Owain Glyndwr, and other historic heroes of the Land of my Fathers. However, added to the ambition, was a subliminal message from the chapel pulpit, that work was work, the rewards sweetened by sacrifice; whereas the study of history was thinly disguised escapism, if not self indulgent fantasy. Well, 40 years on, and much legal dishwater down the sink, I silence the preacher each morning by cooking the eggs for our guests at Les Deux Chevres in Gevrey Chambertin; and then wander off to a land of medieval monks and 2,000 years of wine making, right on our doorstep. The fantasy generally enhanced by an indulgent glass of Gevrey Chambertin at lunchtime - bien sur! 😀
Which brings me to my final blog of 2017, and the connection between Denis, and our neighbouring village, Morey St Denis.
We recently went to taste the delightful biodynamic wines of Domaine Herezstyn Manzini in Gevrey. The estate, which has Polish origins, is now run by Florence and her husband Simon. Their wines include an excellent Champonnet 1er cru, from a vineyard formerly farmed by the monks, immediately behind Les Deux Chevres. They also own a plot of old vines in Clos St Denis, the vineyard which gave its name to the village. So where, I ask, did the vineyard get its name?
The Chanoines of St Denis (religious men of lesser status than a monk - applying a military analogy, the equivalent of the Home Guard) were, as their name implies, followers of St Denis. We are now in the 12c, when it was the height of good taste, and the ultimate in status symbols, to have a prestigious Abbey, occupied by some devout monks, perched next to the family Chateau. In the case of the Vergy family, their fortified enclave sat on top of the rocky protrusion which we now call the Hill of Vergy, just behind Gevrey. Inside the walls was a small Chateau. On the southern side of the hill, just beneath the walls, the Vergy clan gave some land to the Monks of St Vivant, where they built an abbey. At the other end of the hill, the Vergy built a small church dedicated to St Saturnin. The Chanoines occupied buildings within the walls next to the chateaux.
So why, it would be fair to ask, would the disciples of St Denis, pitch their tent, so to speak, on the top of a hill in the middle of Burgundy? Well, the next bit comes with a caution for those of delicate disposition. St Denis arrived in France in about the 2c, his mission to spread the Christian faith. His hunting ground for converts was the Roman enclave now known as Paris. Denis was a persuasive sort of fellow, so much so that he soon became acclaimed and famous. That is always a recipe for upsetting someone or other, and his detractors decided to silence him by removing the offending part - his head. However legend has it, that Denis simply picked up his missing appendage, which continued preaching the Good Word, even though no longer attached to his pulmonary functions. So instead of silence, the perpetrators of this dastardly deed, only succeeded in creating a mythical hero. Justice takes many, and sometimes surprising forms!
After 1,000 years, the legend of Denis was as strong as ever, and it was thought in the Medieval age, that disseminating the body parts of deceased Saints, could add energy to the message. In the 12c, the Bishop of Paris was one of the Vergy family, and in recognition of his elevated status, was allowed to remove Denis’ head from its quiet resting place in Paris, and bring it back to the Hill of Vergy, where although now well and truly silent, it attracted much attention. A small number of Denis’ followers or disciples, decided this was the place to commemorate the good man, and they became known as the Chanoines of St Denis. The Vergy family allocated them a plot of land in Morey to plant their vines - the plot now known as Clos St Denis. And that is the story of Morey St Denis. Every time you drink a bottle of one of these fine Grand Crus, perhaps you will detect a taste associated with the energy of Denis and his Chanoines, derived from this special and memorable terroir.
The restored church of St Saturnin still sits on the northern side of the hill. Although usually the doors are locked, the interior is a touching testament to the Vergy. At Christmas, the church will once again be the venue for another historic celebration of the chap that started the whole affair. Vergy best wishes for the Festive Season, from Jolanta, me, and all at Les Deux Chevres in Gevrey Chambertin.