Echansonnerie
No one seemed to be feeling much pain, including yours truly (center) as berobed dignitaries handed me the tools of the Echansonnerie: Brass key on scarlet ribbon, parchment diploma, and commemorative magnum of ... Chateauneuf-du-Pape, of course!
Echansonnerie des Papes induction (Saturday, June 15)

After five full days of almost constant food and wine, and knowing that E-mail and other critical chores were piling up at home, Mary and I took Saturday off, somewhat to my regret as the group headed west from Avignon to check out the excellent producer Château d'Aqueria and sample its excellent wines from the Tavel and Lirac regions across the Rhone. On the way back, the group also took a look at the Pont du Gard, one of the most impressive Roman aqueducts still in existence.

But the break served us well, it turned out, as the group would spend a very long, very social evening in the ancient stone wine cellar of the Popes, the only structure that remains amid the ruins of the 14th century hilltop papal summer palace atop the hill in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, where the Popes and their court used to escape the summer heat of Avignon.

The event was the summer induction ceremony, formal dinner and dance of the Echansonnerie des Papes, the confrerie of Chateauneuf-du-Pape - literally the "keepers of the keys" to the papal wine cellars - whose members include the region's wine makers and many others involved in one way or another in the wine business in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

It was a formal but high-spirited event, featuring a memorable meal (sadly, I have misplaced the meal notes) accompanied by excellent but anonymous wines of the appellation (this is done anonymously to avoid any political repercussions that might result from over-analysis of which producer's wines were chosen and why), and music and dancing far into the night.

Echansonnerie
Having talked me out of trying to "wing it" in my fractured French, Lauriann Green translates as I give a short acceptance speech.
First, though, came the quarterly induction of new members of the Echansonnerie, and when the baker's dozen inductees were called forward, we unveiled a surprise: I was to be one of them! Thanks to Jean-Pierre's sponsorship and, perhaps, the many glowing reports on Chateauneuf-du-Pape and its wines that I've posted over the years, the Echansonnerie had honored me with an invitation to join its ranks.

Great hilarity prevailed - although one needed to be fluent in French to get all the puns and doubles entendres laced through it - as the purple-robed dignitaries of the Echansonnerie introduced each of the inductees, commanded that each of us submit to a short test (in most cases, sampling wine from two glasses and announcing which one held the Chateauneuf-du-Pape), and then read short sketches "roasting" us.

A short sample from my roast, translated by Lauriann Greene: "We cannot say that he arrived in our village without informing us in advance ("crier Garr") because it is his name, Robin Garr! It is true that his name evokes that of our neighboring county, the Gard (pronounced the same), on the other side of the Rhône river. But he comes from Kentucky, the state that is famous not only for Bourbon, but also for the elegant Kentucky rifle, the favourite of Davy Crockett!

"Mr. Garr professes a fondness for the cuisine of Provence. As confirmed by his generous physique, his passion is great wine and great food! And he is in fact a gastronomic journalist, editor of an Internet site - one has to live with one's time! - called WineLoversPage.com, which is an authority on the matter! Robin Garr can therefore live - and well, we hope! - from what he loves, and from what makes him prosper in turn!"

Well, you get the idea ... the roast ended with the hope that I would "sing, along with us, the praises of Chateauneuf-du-Pape." That seemed fair enough, and by the end of the evening we were all singing, not only in French but in Provencal, a language that until that moment I didn't know how to speak.

All too late on a starry night, we bused back down the hill to Avignon, where after only a few short hours of rest we would move along to Provence.

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