Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin
« Jamais en vain, toujours en vin. »
I enjoy collecting the great wines of the world. I also like to sip and taste them, and on occasion, I drink them to compliment a great meal.
Wine is a hobby of mine, and I enjoy sharing this hobby with fellow wine-enthusiasts, as a member of the Confrérie de Chevaliers du Tastevin.
This group, established in 1934 in Burgundy France, is made up of people that share a true appreciation of good food and good burgundy wines.
Our mandate is to “…encourage the use of the products of Burgundy, particularly her great wines and her regional cuisine. To maintain and revive the festivities, customs, and traditions of Burgundian folklore and to encourage people from all over the world to visit Burgundy."
The organization’s roots stem from Burgundy region when wine growers, similar to the rest of the world, were suffering from the Great Depression. There were cellars full at a time of remarkable vintage wines, but there was no longer any one who could afford to purchase them. Interest in the once great wines of Burgundy was waning. To help find a resolution, a group of wine growers in the region invited friends to their cellar to enjoy good food and wine, and these meetings developed into frequent wine-tasting sessions. Instead of losing hope, they continued to celebrate the Burgundy wines and encouraged their prospective patrons to await better, more prosperous times. Through these ritual gatherings the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin came into being.
While the Confrérie de Chevaliers du Tastevin started off as a small gathering of friends, it is now a worldwide community of twelve thousand members, with individual chapters called Sous-Commanderiess in China, Japan, Australia, Canada, Senegal, America, Rio de Janeiro, among others.
On March 10, 1986 I started the Sous-Commanderie de Halifax, Nova Scoita. It was the third group in Canada, after Toronto and Vancouver. I began as a Chevalier, then Commandeur and was elevated to Grand Sénechal, the president of this local chapter.
In 2005, I also played a part in founding the Sous-Commanderie in Ottawa. There are now seven Sous-Commanderies in Canada (Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver) with a total of only 250 members.
On Sept. 23, 2006, at the Château du Clos de Vougeot in France, I was elevated to Grand Officier, in recognition of the work I did to promote an appreciation of Burgundy wine, and for establishing and promoting Sous-Commanderies in Canada.
The rank of Grand Officer is not awarded often and it is the highest honour a Canadian can receive from the Confrérie des Chevalier du Tastevin.
I was thrilled when I was recommended for the elevation by two, distinguished, former Grand Pilier Generals de Canada, Barry Cooper from Toronto and Don Carlson from Edmonton. The recommendation had the support of Grand Connétable Louis Marc Chevignard of France.
Since I have involvement with both the Nova Scotia and Ottawa Sous-Commanderies, I have attended and hosted several events for the Confrérie de Chevaliers du Tastevin. They were always great fun.
On October 28, 2006, the Sous-Commanderie d’Ottawa held a ceremony at the Brookstreet Hotel, where Dr. Robert Roberts was elevated to Officier Commandeur and five new members were inducted. After only being in existence for since February 2006, the Sous-Commanderie d’Ottawa already had nineteen Chevaliers, which was a testament to appetite for fine Burgundy wines in Ottawa. I was happy to participate in officiating the ceremony, along with Grand Pilier General Don Carlson, Grand Pilier General Ancien Elihu Rees and Officier Commandeur Claude Lefebvre.
Another event for the Sous-Commanderie d’Ottawa was in June 2007, and the theme was fittingly “a Country Affair.” Hosted by Officier Commandeur Robert Roberts, head if the Ottawa Heart Institute, and Chevalier Ian Craig, the event took place in the Gatineau Hills in Chelsea, Quebec. At the event, Dr. Roberts gave a highly informative presentation on the wine regions of Burgundy. Les Fougeres, a restaurant in Chelsey, Quebec, presented an exceptional six-course meal that showcased many local products. Also to ensure that we remembered the wine regions that Dr. Roberts had discussed, our wine selections came from many different Burgundy regions, including a Premier Cru Montmain 2004 from Chablis, a Montagny Premier Cru 2003 from Côte Chalonnaise and a Corton Grand Cru 2002 from Côte de Beaune, among others.
In August 2007, at the request of Grand Sénéchal of the Sous Commanderie d’Halifax, John Carter, I hosted the traditional Summer Paulée for the members of the Halifax Sous-Commanderie of the Chevalier du Tastevin. As a past Grand Sénéchal, I was delighted to host a picnic at my Pleasant River Farm in Queen’s County. August in Nova Scotia is the best time of year to enjoy the pleasures of the area. We had shrimp and lobster, as well as Nova Scotia salmon, which was planked in a fire pit that was constructed for the occasion. For dessert there also a selection of local berry pies and homemade ice cream.
In addition to being a member of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, I am also a member of a group in New York, known as Les XXVI. This is a gourmet food group, who meets twice annually over dinner to enjoy extraordinary food, and equally magnificent wines. Most of the members hail from New York, and I am the only Canadian member.
I have been attending Les XXVI dinners since the 1980s and they are without a doubt the most memorable, exciting and unique dinners I have attended. The group resembles the Club des cents du France
Les XXVI was formed in 1976 in New York by the late Ed Benenson and 25 of his friends, who contributed originally 112 bottles of fine wines to be shared at future dinners.
The purpose of the group is to offers its member two gourmet dinners per year, one in the fall and another in the spring.
Our group usually dines at the top ten restaurants in New York, and often has the chef proprietor present, when possible, en cusine. Some restaurants where we have dined are Per Se, Jean Georges, Le Bernadin, Le Cirque, and Daniel's/ We often challenge our chefs on occasion to produce something that you wouldn’t normally see on a menu. For example, the chef at Le Bernadin, Eric Ripert, produced a game entrée, when his restaurant is internationally acclaimed for his seafood menu.
Additionally, we invite guests including best-selling authors, award-winning chefs, or politicians.
The dinners are hosted by Donald Zilkha of Zilkha Investments, and are often supported by George Sape, who formally chaired the James Beard Foundation. From time to time, one or two members are tasked with supplementing the wines from the group’s cellar, which now boasts over 1,500, predominantly French, Grand Cru wines.