Nomad Nightlife: La Colombelle turns 25 in Auch

My first weekend in Auch, my housemates and I left the house around 10 p.m. on Friday itching for a taste of the town’s nightlife scene. After passing several shuttered-up bars and brasseries on the way to the old town center—and not seeing another living soul—we finally settled on a mostly-empty bar called the Irish Corner.

We ordered some half pints of Guinness, parked it on the outdoor patio and frustratedly wondered where everyone was.

Auch is a decent-sized town that doesn’t lack for young people. It’s home to a branch of the Institut Universitaire de Technologie de Toulouse A, as well as several lycées or high schools. (Since the legal drinking age is 18 in France—and isn’t too strictly enforced—it’s not uncommon to see teenagers out at bars or clubs.)

We later learned that while Auch does have a sizable student population, most of it leaves town for the weekend. Apparently Thursday night is party night, and Friday and Saturday are better spent at home with the girls and a cheap bottle of sangria.

After our first successful Thursday night out—bars were packed, beer flowed and “Call Me Maybe” blasted through the speakers—we were hooked.

We went out again this last week for our second Thursday en ville, expecting a repeat of the same, and stumbled into the midst of Auch’s Soirée Colombelle

On the third Thursday of October each year, the town mobilizes to celebrate the release of the latest vintage of Colombelle—a fruity white wine particular to Southwestern France and classified as Côtes de Gascogne. The festival includes wine tastings during the day, a gala dinner put on by the Jeunes Agriculteurs (Young Farmers) and a late-night bacchanal in partnering bars and the streets surrounding them. This year the celebration was particularly festive as it marked Colombelle’s 25th anniversary.

I didn’t know a thing about the festivities until some friends and I arrived at a local bar called l’Envers and found it strange that drinks were being served in plastic cups rather than the standard, breakable glasses. Then we noticed the banners and chalkboards urging us to try the Colombelle and it started to click.

We made our way to the bar and split a bottle of the honorary beverage, sitting at a table on a raised platform to better survey the surging crowd.

After going in for a second round—this time of demi-pèches (a dangerous combination of peach syrup and beer)—we headed outside to join the crowd spilling into the street, finding a place by a barrel table just in time to witness the arrival of a full-fledged banda (marching band). It was midnight.

They marched into the midst of the crowd, circled up and played a score of traditional French songs—I belted along to Charles Aznavour’s “Emmenez-moi,” greatly impressing some new French friends with my knowledge of their country’s musical heritage—before squeezing into the packed bar to compete with the blaring pop music.

I got home around 2 a.m. (late by both Auch’s and my old-lady standards) after enjoying more Colombelle, dancing in the street and taking some really silly photos.

And so passed what was probably the most eventful night out I’ll have during my time in Auch. How very French for it to have been centered around wine.

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