The Confrérie Saint Etienne (St Stephen’s Brotherhood), is a mythical institution in the world of Alsace wine and one of the oldest in France (its roots are going back to the 14th Century). In its castle of Kientzheim, just next to Riquewihr and Colmar, the brotherhood keeps in its enoteca more than 65000 bottles of wine of Alsace. Each vintage, since the end of the second world war, is represented there and some flasks even go back to the 19th century. Rightly, the brotherhood is considered the memory of Alsace wine. But far from being content to archive the best wines of the region, the Brotherhood Saint-Etienne, through conferences and wine tasting workshops open to all lovers of fine wines, works to the recognition of Alsace wine as one of the best in the world.
Proud to be a Brother and tell you the story …
Here is the first article of the rule of the brotherhood, dating back to 1561:
” No one can be a Brother (Confrère) of Saint Etienne if he does not like joy, good food and Alsace wines. “
” However, the admission will be pronounced, only on the motivated proposal of a confrere duly authorized and after approval of the Grand Council. He will also submit the applicant to the wine trials of admission … ”
My love for the Alsace wines goes back to my studies in Strasbourg in the mid seventies. At that time I used to escape to the vineyards on the weekend. But only 3 decades later I finally had the opportunity to join the brotherhood as an Apprentice (with the blue ribbon). The other day, on Nov 25, 2017, I stepped up to the red ribbon (Companion).
The Brotherhood Saint Etienne brings together all the friends of Alsace, its wines and its gastronomy. It includes Brothers and Sisters of different ranks recognizable by their ribbon bearing medal and barrel: successively Apprentice (blue ribbon), Companion (red ribbon) and Master (green ribbon). The various ranks are reached following the more and more difficult wine trials that take place during the Solemn Chapters. You do not need to wait that long as I did in between: a period of one year only is required between each rank.
Other grades have been created especially for professionals: Vigneron (gold and red ribbon for winemakers) and Sénéchal (for gastronomy professions, with a white and gold ribbon).
Personalities chosen by the Grand Council can also receive the distinction of Brother / Sister Oenophile or Gastronome (purple ribbon), and Brother / Sister of Honor (green and red ribbon).
From the medieval roots to the revival after WWII
In the sixteenth century, the production area of the Alsace wines covered an area twice as large as the current vineyard. Many buildings, still preserved today and dating from the beginning of the Renaissance, attest to this flourishing period. It is the case for our beautiful city of Riquewihr. Most of the beautiful houses of its main street go back to that golden age. From this time also dates the first attempt to establish a kind of appellation of controlled origin: an association of Riquewihr vine growers decided then the official date of the beginning of the harvest, and defined the grape varieties to plant.
The origins of the Brotherhood of Saint-Etienne in Alsace date back to the 14th century. At that time, every 26th of December, Saint Stephen’s day, the society of the Ammerschwihr notables near Colmar, whose major role was the close supervision of the quality of the wines of the city, met for its annual feast. The magnificence of this event was such that the population soon became accustomed to calling the society “the Brotherhood of Saint Stephen”.
After a long prosperous period, it suffered a slow decline after the French Revolution and died in 1848. Under the impulse of a group of winemakers and friends of Alsace wines she finally resurrected in the current form in 1947 in order to make known and loved the wines of Alsace.
The enoteca, memory of the Alsace wines
The Confrérie St Etienne (St Stephen’s Brotherhood) is today considered as one of the oldest of France. Its rules of procedure, still in use, date back to 1561.
In 1973 she established her seat at Kientzheim Castle, between Riquewihr and Kaysersberg. Since then, important transformations have taken place in its walls, including the development of a magnificent cellar where are stored tens of thousands (65,000) of bottles: the famous Oenothèque of the Brotherhood whose oldest vintages date back to 1834!
Workshops, wine tastings, conferences, chapters and auction open to everyone …
As the brotherhood is a witness of the tradition it is also firmly oriented into the future. Are you already a real wine lover? Or are you willing to start learning more about wines and Alsace wine? At the Confrérie Saint-Etienne, all year long, there are a lot of valuable activities open to everyone, no need to be a member.
You will find all details about dates and subjects on the official website of the Confrérie Saint-Etienne d’Alsace.