The director general of UNESCO has attended the 25th annual St Vincent festival in Champagne, honouring the region's new heritage status and paying tribute to the leader of that bid, who died suddenly last week.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director general, was honorary guest at the St Vincent de l’Archiconfrérie de la Champagne, celebrated in Reims last weekend.

Her visit was arranged by Pierre Cheval, who led the Champagne UNESCO world heritage bid but who died suddenly only two days before the event.

The St Vincent festival is where Champagne growers and houses gather together to give thanks for last year’s harvest and pray for a good growing season in the name of St Vincent, patron saint of winemakers.

Arnaud Robinet, mayor of Reims, asked all St Vincent guests to hold a minute’s silence in Cheval’s honour before the traditional speeches started.

Evelyne Roques-Boizel, co-president of the Archiconfrérie, described her close friend ‘as a visionary, and brilliant orator; someone with lots of joie de vivre and a very good winemaker’.

Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO

Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO. Credit: Wikipedia

‘It was Pierre who had invited Irina Bokova, and he was so much looking forward to her visit; he treasured the opportunity to show her some of our recently classified heritage.’

Pascal Férat, president of the Syndicat des Vignerons (SGV) and co-president of the Comité Champagne, added, ‘He was very dedicated to the common cause. He had the great capacity to unite people and simplify complicated situations. He will be sorely missed.’

Cheval’s son, Louis Cheval-Gatinois, said his dad felt ‘Ms Bokova’s visit was a second victory for the inscription dossier’.