I had a great conversation the other night with some guests over the whole Beaujolais Nouveau thing. We all agreed that it had done little to promote those great Beaujolais such as Brouilly, Fleurie, Moulin a Vent etc., but it had put Beaujolais on the map for good or for bad!
Some time in the 1980s what had traditionally been a local passion and interest in what the latest production of the very young Beaujolais table wine would taste like, turned in to a world-wide marketing phenomenon, no doubt encouraged by some local wine marketing consortium.
The goal I'm sure was to created a larger demand for and a greater awareness of Beaujolais, which at that time was no doubt lagging behind other French wine growing areas, like Bordeaux, Rhone and Burgundy. Although Beaujolais is actually in the southern extremities of Burgundy, it does make sense to separate it as the dominant red grape here is Gamay as opposed to the Pinot Noir of the rest of Burgundy. As early as 1395 Phillip the Bold's famous decree outlawing the Gamay grape from being grown in the then duchy of Burgundy made sure of this separation.
So a competition was set up which involved getting the latest Beaujolais Nouveau wines to the furthest reaches in the world, as fast as possible - a wine marathon of sorts. This led to some great stunts involving airplanes, concord, helicopters, submarines, rickshaws, bionic people etc.. And it worked, suddenly everyone was talking about "Le Beaujolais Nouveau" and the phrase "le Beaujolais est arrive" entered into every wino's vocabulary. Soon 50% of the region's wine production was crushed, fermented, bottled, labelled, shipped and drunk within 3 months of being picked!!!
In 1985 the rules changed so that the Beaujolais Nouveau could be released no sooner than the third Thursday in the month of November (it used to be 15th November) - just in time for the weekend!!
This year will be no different. Sure enough at 1 minute past midnight on Thursday 20th November 2008, the starting gun will sound in towns and villages like Beaujeu and millions of bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau will start their race towards the 4 corners of the world.
We'll get our Beaujolais Nouveau on Friday 21st - this year though it will be in plastic bottles!!!!
The problem is that shipping or rather plane delivery is proving too expensive - a discrepancy is beginning to open between quality, price and novelty. As the cost of a case delivered by plane goes to $140, more and more outlets are willing to wait for the ship delivery which will only cost $105, but then what's the point in featuring the wine since the whole idea of being one of the first to serve it will be lost and maybe there are some better bargains out there at that price!
So some smart George will bottle his Beaujolais Nouveau in plastic to keep the shipping costs down. What will these marketing geniuses think of next? It worked with me - I never usually buy the stuff but this year, I ordered a case before the grapes had even been picked - just out of curiosity!
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