November 27th – The Union of Vintners’ Festival of The Yacht

The Union of Vintners has, for a very long time, collected corks. Bottle collection schemes are common across the City, run by breweries and now the Office for Municipal Reuse, but corks have always been the preserve of the Union of Vintners. For every hundred corks stamped with the Union’s seal, you can receive in return a bottle of Union #36, a very well-appraised red wine, with a good consistency year-on-year. The collections started in the spring of 1811, when it became clear that, due to political tensions in Regia (a farmland kingdom to the south, on the coast of the Outer Ocean, where the cork trees grow) there would not be any cork deliveries that year.

The initial idea was to re-use old corks, and to stop up the holes made by uncorking with either tar or wax. Unfortunately, this plan didn’t go as well as the Vintners had hoped, and due to bacteria which became lodged in the inside of the corks (and therefore were not removed when the corks were chlorine-washed) about four years worth of wine was ruined, with few exceptions. It was not a good time for the wine industry. Eventually, glass ‘corks’ began to be used, in conjunction with a hot wax or rubber seal, and sales returned to normal, but due to the overzealousness of the cork collectors, they had warehouses of used corks lying around, gathering mould.

Today, by the Union Maritime Warehouse you can witness the modern iteration of the solution to this waste disposal issue, originally proposed by Trebban Marrik in 1815. The gathering is, of course, used as an excuse to sell wine, and so the dockside where the Warehouse can be viewed is covered in many little chairs and tables where Union waiters bring fresh bottles and snacks if a little flag is raised. These tables are arranged surrounding braziers to keep away the November cold. Mulled wine is an option, for those anticipating the coming winter. There has been talk of moving the festival to July in order to take advantage of the good weather, but this is Buentoille and it has always happened today, the day when the first Cork Yacht was completed.

When everyone has had the chance to get a few drinks in them, a drum-roll begins, and the great sea-doors of the Warehouse open slowly. When they are almost open, a fanfare sounds out, and the Yacht sails out from the Warehouse, bobbing on the water majestically. Made from compressed corks and wood, the Yacht is luxurious, the result of an entire year’s hard work, and it will be raffled off today; for every 100 corks collected, a ticket is given out, along with the customary bottle of wine. In the hold of the vessel are 100 bottles of Union #36, and a single bottle of #31, a prize worthy of admiration just by itself.

Once the winner has been announced, it is considered good form to take some of the gathered crowds on a trip around the bay, and to break open a few of the 101 bottles in the process. This is generally decided by very quickly queueing up by the waterside. However, given that the new Yacht owner may have no experience of boats whatsoever, it is a risky thing to queue up for, to say the least. At least eleven boats have been sunk on their first outing over the years, quite a feat considering that the cork construction gives the vessels a certain ‘bounce’ when crashing into obstacles. As such, there are safety teams on hand, as well as a team of divers from the Union of Vintners, whose job it is to save the bottle of #31, if it is sunk with the ship. For everyone left on the dockside, a band are floated out on a cork raft, so they stay a little longer, and drink a little more.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Undue Compliments
  • The Festival of the Ditch
  • Leaf-Seller’s Day