The origins of Beaujolais Nouveau

11th November, 2016
On the first Thursday of November every year, households raise their glasses and celebrate what is possibly the biggest wine-related event in all of France: Beaujolais Nouveau.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a variety of wine which grew from a little-known local wine grown near Lyon to a nationwide phenomenon – the day celebrated in its honour is now even recognised around the world. By the time the day comes to a close, more than 65 million bottles of the wine – around half of the total amount produced annually – are distributed and drunk around the world.

Just weeks before the big day, the grapes used to make this extremely popular wine are still on the vine. They are harvested, left to ferment and bottled extremely quickly, making sure all is ready for the biggest day on the wine calendar. The bottles are to be released no earlier than the third Thursday of November, so come midnight on the big day, there is a huge race to be the first place to serve the new wine from this year’s harvest.

Beaujolais started as a wine served in bars, cafes and bistros across the Burgundy region and Lyon, with the arrival of the newest varieties each autumn attracting an increasing fanfare. As it was produced so quickly and was fast growing in popularity, the government eventually needed to step in and regulate the sales of this seemingly free-flowing wine. The first regulations concerning Beaujolais were laid down in 1938.

Following the Second World War, in 1951 the region’s governing body revoked these regulations, and instead established Beaujolais Nouveau and an official annual release date of November 15th. By this point, the former local tradition had gained in popularity so much that word had spread to Paris, and following that, it didn’t take long for the wine’s popularity to spread across France. In 1985, the rules were changed once again so that Beaujolais Nouveau could only be sold from the third Thursday of November onwards, helping to tie the celebration to the weekend. 

Much of the wine’s success can be attributed to the efforts of one man: Georges Duboeuf. He worked tirelessly to promote Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau and helped it to become the phenomenon it is today. Beaujolais Nouveau makes up more than a fifth of his annual production – around four million bottles – an impressive amount considering the short timescale and a small region the wine is grown in. Over the past 45 years, sales have risen from around a million bottles a year to more than 70 million bottles a year.

Its success can also be attributed to its distinctive taste – it is about as close to a red wine as a white wine can possibly get flavour-wise. As the wine is produced so quickly, many of the phenolic compounds normally found in red wines aren’t created, making for a fruity and easy to drink wine. Like with white wine, it also tastes best when chilled, and is seen as a wine to be enjoyed as part of a celebration rather than one to be taken seriously and critiqued. Many people also love the fact that there are millions of people around the world also enjoying the same experience – delicious wine and good company.

If you’re staying at our French villas this November, be sure to join in with this very special occasion and enjoy a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau!

Image: Shunichi Kouroki, available under Creative Commons