Two things any successful business needs are the ability to launch their product ahead of any rivals, followed by a successful marketing campaign to drive the resulting sales. Beaujolais Nouveau, made with hand-harvested Gamay grapes from the famed Burgundy region was able to tap in to both of these and yet, it’s much less popular than it used to be.
In the early 1950’s Beaujolais producers set themselves the challenge of beating competitors to market by presenting a drinkable wine as early as possible. Techniques such as speeding up fermentation time were developed to give a ‘finished’ product in as little as 6–8 weeks from the grape harvest.
In order to create a level playing field between all Burgundian producers a standard release date was set as the third Thursday of November (the 21st this year), a date which also happily tied in nicely with the lucrative Thanksgiving and Christmas markets.
Restricting customers to only being allowed to purchase bottles at one-minute past midnight on what became known as ‘Beaujolais Nouveau Day’ turned out to be marketing genius, akin to midnight iPhone launches these days. People flocked to be one of the first to taste the new vintage.
The modern day story began in 1970 when two London based wine writers, Clement Freud and Joseph Berkmann, decided to make a bet with each other – who could be the first to pick up a case of the midnight released Beaujolais wine in France and get it back across the channel ready for dinner in London that night?
For the first two years it was a private competition (which Berkmann won both times), but as the word and novelty spread, more and more people began joining in, devising ever cleverer ways of shipping the wine. Thus the ‘Beaujolais Run’ was born, spearheading a massive sales and popularity boom. In typical 1980’s extravagance, one member of the RAF used his connections to ship the wine across in a Harrier Jet. It might have been expensive, but he set a speed record unlikely to be broken.
Although popularity eventually slipped away from the novelty, the ‘Beaujolais Run’ is still going strong, albeit in an updated guise. Knowing that driving as fast as you can to deliver wine is likely to cause an accident, the rules have been amended from the fastest delivery to the shortest delivery by distance. You’re now as likely to find precious classic cars making the trip alongside expensive super cars, all the while collecting money for charity.
As you’d expect from a wine produced in a mere 6-8 weeks, Beaujolais Nouveau (not to be confused with the longer living wines from the wider Beaujolais region) is meant to be drunk young, a curio rather than a wine that stands up to serious critical appraisal. Uncomplicated, lively and fresh, bottles should be drunk within a year, and will benefit from a little light chilling to draw out the fresh berry fruits.