A Remarkable Thing


If you recall, Sir Alan Sugar looked over at one of the BBC TV "Apprentice" contestants and said, in his wonderfully direct way, "Business is about buying something for one Pound and selling it for five. If you have a problem with that you shouldn't be here." Indeed.

And that sentiment is behind these thoughts. Once again, trying to appear organised, I want to consider the topical entity that is Beaujolais Nouveau - coming to a wine store or supermarket near you pretty soon – or at least some of them. It is remarkable as it comes from the Beaujolais region in France, obviously, and is released on the 3rd Thursday in November. It is remarkable because it is drinkable after only a few weeks, maybe 7 or eight after picking.  

My French links, via my French wife and her family, have produced many surprises, many revelations about French behaviour that seem to fly in the face of the clichés (French word there) that us "rosbifs" believe. Being very interested in the whole topic of wine I had always thought that Beaujolais Nouveau, and all the associated media hype surrounding it, would be met with a French silence that said everything. Namely, "If you Brits are stupid enough to buy our plonk, highly marketed, highly overpriced, then......c'est comme ça." But not a bit of it.

It would appear, from the ever un-scientific survey of my in-laws, to be a very important part of French culture. What? I thought we were all snobby about it and saw it as a huge marketing project for offloading poor wine on those stupid enough to pay for it.

May I get tedious historical facts out of the way? After some intense research, lasting, let's say, at least 14 minutes, I discovered the following :

  • After any vintage, some wine from that year is always made quickly to celebrate.

  • This wine was consumed early, while the better stuff matured more slowly

  • In 1937 the Appellation for Beaujolais was created (legal rules about making it).

  • This meant no wine of one year could be sold before December 15th.

  • In 1951 this date changed to earlier, November 15th (not sure why).

  • The famous George Duboeuf (wine name in the Rhône) sells 4 million bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau every year.

  • A Race was invented from Beaujolais to Paris to help marketing.

  • In France, "Beaujolais Nouveau Day" is always the 3rd Thursday in November.

Remember Mr Sugar's remarks. It's all about business and marketing. At the time, the Thursday launch date meant plenty of time to market and distribute the wine ready for a hefty weekend. Clever eh?

As the French talk of "le business", this must surely be "le grand business sense". Monsieur Duboeuf would agree.

Not that I'm against it. Experts say it's remarkable to make anything drinkable at all in what is around 8 weeks or so from vine to glass. The wine has been described as "the nearest a red gets to tasting like white wine".

The Race (Does it still exist?) was highly entertaining I recall. The English version involved taking the newly released wine from Beaujolais and heading back to the House of Commons Bar I believe. Interesting location. Modes of transport have included cars, boats, trains, Concorde (that's gone now of course), elephants, rickshaws, hot air balloons etc etc. Perhaps the Health and Safety brigade (of "this packet of peanuts may contain nuts" fame) have put a stop to it.

Back to my French family. As a tilt at thoroughness, more research. I asked some of them what they thought of Beaujolais Nouveau – expecting to hear “a novelty wine, not particularly good and highly overpriced which we can sell to foreigners”. Without a moment's pause, the eyes glazed a little and real Frenchness came to the fore. After an appropriate silence, used by the French to say "I am pausing for effect as what I am about to divulge is both poetic and profound, and will bring about in you a speechlessness borne of a deep, deep admiration and respect for my philosophical perceptions and complete understanding of the Universe and anything else that exists beyond".

The point was made (quite well actually) that Beaujolais Nouveau celebrates the joys and pleasures of wine and the reality of yet another good harvest. Yes, it is a bit of a novelty but wine is so ingrained in the culture, along with bread and cheese (conveniently making a complete meal you notice), that this is a great cause for celebration. I was told that cafés and bars in France will offer Beaujolais Nouveau along with some nibbles and people will go out specifically on that Thursday to enjoy the miracle of the vine.

I can's see us doing something similar, can you, with, say our national alcoholic drink - warm real ale. Dream for a moment that beer could only be brewed for the whole year in November. Would we celebrate with the first of the vintage? "La Old Todrogerer (63%) Nouveau est arrivée?" And could we persuade Parisians to come over and rush it back to the Bar of the Assemblée Nationale". No. Perhaps it's better that way. I'll raise a glass to that.

And I haven’t even asked what happens to all this post Brexit?