Obituary: Georges Duboeuf

Wine producer who masterminded the Beaujolais Nouveau boom of the 1980s

Enterprise: Georges Duboeuf1
Enterprise: Georges Duboeuf

Georges Duboeuf, who has died aged 86, was a French wine merchant known as “le roi” (and sometimes even as “le pape”) “du Beaujolais” and was credited with turning Beaujolais Nouveau, a drink once handed out for nothing on village streets, into a major money-spinner.

In the 1970s, Duboeuf, who had set up his own production company, Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, in 1964, was looking for a new idea to steal a march on his rivals. He noticed how villages in Beaujolais had taken to celebrating each new harvest by sploshing raw wine into the goblets of vineyard workers and passers-by.

The wine was dreadful, but the merriment of the occasion made up for its shortcomings, and the practice spread to the streets of Lyon and even to Paris, where from the 1950s there was an annual race among restaurateurs to get their hands on the first bottles.

Intrigued by the razzmatazz, Duboeuf wondered whether the wine, originally released each year on November 15 (now on the third Thursday of November), might have a wider market.

Over the next few years, under the marketing slogan “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive” (originally a hand-scrawled sign seen in a Lyon bistro window), he set to work to spread the atmosphere of revelry and anticipation around the world.

Throughout the 1980s, he held Beaujolais Nouveau festivals which were attended by celebrities, including Michelin-starred restaurateurs, and his enthusiastic promotion of the wine led to its annual release date becoming known across the world as Beaujolais Nouveau Day. By the peak of the boom in the late 1980s, Duboeuf was selling more than 250,000 cases a year, with restaurateurs around the world competing to be the first to take delivery.

The British record of two hours from release to uncorking was claimed by the Savoy Hotel in London, which had a case dropped in by the Red Devils of the Parachute Regiment.

The Beaujolais region has long been regarded as Burgundy’s poor relation. Duboeuf, however, put it on the wine connoisseur’s map, and on the back of the Nouveau phenomenon built a business empire that came to dominate wine production in the region.

Georges Duboeuf was born on April 14, 1933 in Creches, near the village of Chaintre, in Pouilly-Fuisse, an appellation in Burgundy which specialised in Chardonnay and where his family owned a few acres of vines. Georges showed enterprise from an early age, delivering wines to restaurants on his bicycle. By the end of the 1950s, his Pouilly-Fuisse had developed a following not only in his native Burgundy but also in Paris.

But Duboeuf’s customers soon began demanding something more: “Chefs like Paul Blanc and Paul Bocuse told me: ‘Your Pouilly-Fuisse is terrific, but we want red wines’,” he recalled. So he went to the nearby Beaujolais region and began recruiting producers, eventually founding Les Vins Georges Duboeuf and expanding his own wine production, purchasing grapes from selected vineyards and putting his own name prominently on every bottle he made, using colourful, eye-catching flower labels on his bottles as early as the 1970s. The Beaujolais Nouveau mania faltered from the 1990s, but in recent years it has come back into fashion in many parts of the world, notably in Japan.

Georges Duboeuf, who died on January 4, married Rolande, the daughter of a fellow wine salesman, in the early 1960s. She survives him with their daughter, Fabienne, and their son, Franck, who has run the family business since 2018.

© Telegraph