Franck Duboeuf And the Marketing Miracle That Is Beaujolais Nouveau

Beaujolais Nouveau is traditionally the first wine of the vintage. This is wine that is made from grapes that were sitting on vines a mere six weeks earlier. The practice of making this very quickly assembled wine is thought to date back to the 19th century when winemakers would complete its fermentation in cask while en route to nearby Lyon. It was a way for the locals to celebrate that year's harvest. Today it has been a worldwide celebration of wine and one of the wine world's great wine marketing successes - described by Decanter Magazine as a "global phenomenon." There are 28 million bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau sold according to TheLocal.Fr.

And what of the wine? Dorothy J. Gaiter, writing in Grape Collective describes it as an "exuberantly fruity quaffer that’s pleasantly a little rough."

The central figure in the rise of the Beaujolais Nouveau marketing success story is the négociant Georges Dubeouf. He provided the energy and marketing flair that helped to push a local event onto the international stage. Dubeouf is responsible for the famous tagline, "Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!" According to Tasting Panel Magazine, Dubeouf's total production is 30 million bottles per year sold to 120 countries around the world.

Grape Collective speaks with the next generation, Georges Duboeuf's son Franck Duboeuf (photo right by Lisa Denning), about the phenomenon that is Beaujolais Nouveau.

Christopher Barnes: Franck, tell us a little bit about Beaujolais.

Franck Duboeuf: Well, Beaujolais is a marvelous region. We are located in the southern part of Burgundy where we have Gamay, a lot of Gamay. No Pinot, a little bit of Chardonnay, but a lot of Gamay.

So we are pretty close to Lyon in the Mâconnais region. The whole region is today about 17,000 acres and we have 12 appellations or 12 different wines I should say. So from Beaujolais; which is half of it, Beaujolais-Villages and the 10 Cru of Beaujolais.

So there is no other classification until now. So it goes by different villages with 38 villages that produce Beaujolais-Villages and only 10 represent the 10 Cru of Beaujolais.

A lot of people, when they think of Beaujolais, they think of Beaujolais Nouveau, this young wine. How did that happen?

Well from a local tradition it became a worldwide phenomenon in the late 1970s, beginning of the 1980s. It is true that it's a real important time of the year for us in Beaujolais. It's something very serious, even if it is not too serious, it is made very seriously. It is the ambassador of the new vintage, so it's very important for us to present the very best of the Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages appellations. Even if it is a wine made very quickly, we need about 25 days to make it from the harvest to be ready to be bottled. We developed the skill in 20 or 30 years. I mean the carbonic maceration and the way to make a very quick fermentation, only three or four days, but these four days are very crucial, very important; every hour counts.

We like to say sometimes it is much more difficult to produce a good Beaujolais Nouveau than a classified growth because you have only a few days, a few hours, to produce the very best. So from the grapes, when they arrive at the cellar, and then you start the fermentation, everything has to be made quickly and perfectly, and then we control the temperature during the fermentation to preserve the maximum fruitiness and aromas and then we have to press gently the grapes to obtain this first juice. We sometimes call this "paradise," because it's very sweet and very aromatic, very pleasant.

So this is a very important time of the year obviously. Today it's a real phenomenon to present one third of the total production of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages.

About one third, yes. So it is shipped to 80 different countries. Obviously France is still a very important market and it's really a celebration day and even in the US, for example, it's amazing to see that year after year it became part of the tradition. It's a kick-off and the beginning of the holiday season. So it's a great wine to enjoy and a great way to enjoy the Gamay and the region too.

So with Beaujolais Nouveau you see people in Japan getting excited about it, in America getting excited about it. How did this become an international phenomenon?

There is no creator behind Beaujolais Nouveau, it's really everybody who was very involved and still is very involved behind Beaujolais Nouveau. I mean, not just the growers, the négociant, the unions; everybody promotes it. The Beaujolais Nouveau, generation after generation, became a phenomenon. We tried to share this great expression of wine, wine designed for pleasure first. And, as it was at the beginning, it is a good excuse to party.

And because Beaujolais Nouveau has become such a huge success, have there been challenges, in terms of marketing Beaujolais on the back of that? Where you have people thinking about Beaujolais in terms of an inexpensive wine, when in fact, some of the Cru Beaujolais are some of the great wines of France? 

Well, first of all the Beaujolais Nouveau is not an inexpensive wine, in terms of the way we have to make it, you know? For example, mechanical harvest is forbidden and we have to do everything by hand. So it represents about 30,000 pickers in the region for five weeks. So it's a wine very difficult to produce in terms of technique and also labor. And the idea is obviously to show the very best of the region at a very precise time. But behind yes, we have 12 appellations and we have 10 Cru Beaujolais to promote for the rest of the year. So, yes, there is a time for Beaujolais Nouveau and then there is a time for the Cru. So we have to wait for them until spring, usually, or beginning of summer, and we need more time to age them carefully and in great conditions, and then we bottle it at the right time, and we usually present a new vintage at the end of spring, beginning of summer.

And people talk about Beaujolais Nouveau a lot. How do you get Cru Beaujolais to become more of an internationally known wine?

I think first they produce from Gamay and the Gamay grape needs to be a little bit more known, because we are responsible for maybe 80% of the total Gamay production in the world. So, it is a category by itself and sometimes a bit more difficult to talk about Gamay than other grape varieties. So that's one thing. To explain the magic of these grapes we can produce a very young wine, to be drunk within 25 days, 30 days after the harvest and great wines with great potential for aging, like Moulin-a-Vent or Morgon.

So sometimes, yes, it is difficult to explain this duality and we will definitely need more time, a little bit more time to promote all the Cru Beaujolais. Without any classification we have to promote all of them, and then you go by your own taste, and you have to experiment all these Cru of Beaujolais. There is certainly a great opportunity today to introduce this new Cru of Beaujolais, thanks to maybe the value, great quality and price value, and thanks to fantastic vintages we produced in the last five years. 2009 was an exceptional vintage and it's such a great pleasure now to drink this vintage. And then we have the 2015, which is another one. The 2014 is very Beaujolais style. So that year has been very generous with us and it's a real great pleasure to rediscover this Cru of Beaujolais through these great vintages and also for the value they represent.

And how different are the soils and climates in different parts of Beaujolais, and how does that reflect in the wines? 

There was a common idea that Beaujolais is mainly from granitic soil but this is not the case. I mean, we have a lot of different types of soil. Yes, we have granite obviously; but we have also schist, we have also sandy soil, we have limestone, we have clay soil. So all of these components give to the wines its own personality. And the main differences between all these Cru of Beaujolais are coming from the soil. The soil gives to the grapes and to the wines its style and personality. So we have such an array of different types of soils, it explains why we have 12 different appellations.

And they're very different aren't they, some of the Crus. They're very different wines, they have very different personalities.

Yes, in their youth and then how they age and the potentiality of each, yes. We have some true expressions of Gamay or peppery notes and a lot of fruitiness of black and red fruits. But then we have a little bit more complexity. Sometimes we have black tea leaf and then we go to more minerality and we have some specific soil like, for example Côte de Brouilly which is an old volcano with a blue stone. We have the famous Moulin-a-Vent which can age happily and can be confused with a great Burgundy. Over there we have manganese and we have iron so it gives to the wine even more personality and richness and self-dominant characteristics. And then we have Fleurie, for example, where we have granite soil. It gives a lot of finesse and elegance. The reason why we like to say that Fleurie is the queen of Beaujolais is because of this finesse, but it has great aging potential.

So, yes, it's a mosaic of different soils with one grape varietal and it is why it is such an interesting wine region with all these different types of wines and even for each Cru of Beaujolais, today we have more and more specific climates and I'm sure in the coming years these climates will be recognized.

And Franck talk a little bit about your philosophy winemaking.

Well we are négociants so we buy fruits, we buy finished wines, we buy juice from about 300 different growers and most of the co-ops. Our philosophy of viticulture is to be close partners with our growers, but they are making the wine, so we are there to support them, to give them our experience, what we think about what can be done with this year compared to what we used to do, etc. So it's mainly advice and support, but in any case we conduct the vinification and we are working together because of their skill, because of their talent.

So I would say that our approach is to try to have as little intervention at possible.


Intervention in the winemaking and it's mainly based on our experience and what we have noticed as a négociant. Our first task is to go and see a lot of growers and suppliers in the first days and feel the vintage, the vinification, and then we can change, we can maybe give some advice; but, once again, the growers will make the wines by themselves, we are there only to follow carefully the vinification, the fermentation, and then we will make our selection. That means sometimes more than 8,000 samples tasted and analyzed in our lab. This is a very important time of the year, but only at this time we will make our decision, we'll take our decision, and then we will follow carefully the wines until the bottling.

And, I guess there are some advantages and disadvantages in terms of being a négociant, so you have less actual control over the grapes themselves; but at the same time you have the ability to pick from different growers. How do you deal with 300 individual growers and maintain the quality that you need?

Well, I think today the line is not as it was in the past. I mean before the négociant and growers today, many growers are négociants, and many négociants own vineyards. So we, for example, at Duboeuf built the winery in 2003 and now we vinify with about 100 growers who bring their fruit to our winery. The idea was not to do better than they used to do but mainly to keep relationships between these growers and us. You know, after some time I decided not to invest in their winemaking facilities and they prefer to keep the land, the vineyards, and they prefer to deliver grapes to us. 

So it's a good example of a kind of partnership we have now with growers. We buy grapes, we buy finished wines. It used to be handshakes in the past, today we have some contracts with them. There is no one rule, but many opportunities work with the next generation of growers and many growers today are bottling part of their production and selling them directly. They want to keep a relationship with their négociant too. Sometimes they buy wines to complement their portfolio. So there are many many different cases and today we can't say there are négociants and there are growers in Beaujolais.

So Frank, Château des Capitans, this is an example of something which you own?

Yes, as a grower, my father started 50 years ago as a négociant, so he selected wines from his colleagues and friends; but we never tried to buy châteaux or domains. This is an exception. Everything started in 2003 and the idea was to own this flagship of the appellation Juliénas. A great château, a great region, the vineyards surrounded the château and the idea was there again to maybe be an owner of a few vineyards and to continue the evolution. So there is nothing really written, but just an evolution of our task and business too. 

Franck, talk a little bit about the history of the estate. Your name is synonymous with Beaujolais in many countries, and with many people.

Yes the name is now a brand. First of all it was the vision of my father. As a grower, he understood the frustration and the opportunities in the late '50s, beginning of the '60s, and the potential of this wine region. And he had a new approach to the wine, in terms of bottling, in terms of marketing the wines. So it was a kind of revolution at the time, and there was not so much wine, not so many options between Bordeaux and Burgundy. Beaujolais came very early, maybe earlier than many other wine regions in France. So it's the reason why, in the '60s and '70s Beaujolais was really appreciated in France, in great restaurants and also abroad. This capacity to bottle great wines and to be appreciated everywhere in the world.

So, well, it's a combination of a vision of a man, and also the potential of a region, and also great reactions with Beaujolais Nouveau and many others, all the Cru Beaujolais. And the adventure, and the story continues.

And did you used to play center back for Chelsea Football Club?

No that was Frank Leboeuf .

Ok, well that clears that up. Thank you.

Read Dorothy J. Gaiter on Beaujolais Nouveau

Read Lettie Teague in The Wall Street Journal on Beaujolais Nouveau

TheLocal.Fr on 14 facts about Beaujolais Nouveau

Decanter interviews Georges Dubeouf

Find Georges Dubeouf Beaujolais Nouveau 2017 at Grape Collective or at a local wine store via Winesearcher.