Jan 07: Le Pape du Beaujolais, Georges Duboeuf died on December 4 at the age of 86 but will be remembered for promoting simple red wines made from carbonic maceration of Gamay grapes in Beaujolais, helping farmers recover some of their investment through the world famous Beaujolais Nouveau Day on the 3rd Thursday of November- a concept popularised by him in many countries in the 1980’s including India where he will live on through his wines being imported by Mohan Bros
Also known as the King of Beaujolais, the wine merchant Georges Duboeuf died on Saturday at the age of 86; the cause of death being the Stroke he had. Though as a Negociant, he sold 30 million cases of wine from 300 wine growers, he produced less than 10% of the total sales in his winery. He will be remembered for helping to put the tradition of Beaujolais Nouveau on the global stage in the 1980’s. The passionate promoter of Beaujolais wines felt and boasted about the unique style of his area where the fruit and style were unique and could not be repeated elsewhere.
He initially spent time working in Paris, although the lifestyle didn’t suit him and he returned south to Macon to learn more about the wine business. After starting to supply local restaurants by visiting a network of growers and bottling their wines on-site, he created a growers’ association known as Ecrin Maconnais-Beaujolais, followed by his own winery set up in 1964 focusing on wines from Beaujolais.
He believed that Beaujolais was about capturing the quintessence of Gamay grape and the terroir and the stamp of the vigneron. One could not be a good Negociant without a good vigneron.
According to Guardian, a low point came for him in 2005 when he was charged with mixing low quality wine with better vintages after a bad harvest in 2004. Duboeuf claimed this had been due to human error and stressed that none of the substandard wine had been sold to customers. After a trial that rocked France, the company was found guilty of fraud and fined €30,000.
Dominique Piron, president of the Inter Beaujolais trade body, paid the finest tribute to Georges Duboeuf when he said his name would be forever written into Beaujolais history. ‘Thank you Monsieur Georges for everything you brought to this region. You were the honour of Beaujolais.’
Georges Duboeuf in India
Mumbai-based Dilip Elayath, who used to work for Sanjay Menon, Director of Sansula, says they met Georges Duboeuf around 20 years ago in France. He found him a very soft spoken man with demeanour of a simple farmer. This may explain partly how he managed to gain the patronage of many of the 2 & 3 Michelin starred chefs in France, through whom he managed to find a ready market for the vast array and volume of wines he produced- not only in Beaujolais, but also in the nearby Maconnais and Languedoc. He used to keep a few bottles of wine in his bag and bicycle around to various wine shops and restaurants at the age of 18.
What possessed him was the brilliant idea; to make large volumes of quaffable young wine that had barely been in the bottles for a week and put them in the Air France planes, to reach every major city in the world. From Tokyo to New York hospitality professional of top hotels or F&B establishment, used to clamour to get on board the Beaujolais Nouveau Run, as it was called- to be able to release the first wine of the vintage to the consumers who were curious for a taste of this first release of the vintage on the 3rd Thursday of each November. Everyone had that date etched on their calendars to make sure they were there to tell the others about the first wine of the vintage.
In India, it used to be more of a fun evening with musical bands and dancing that attracted the chic crowd who perhaps did not know how to spell Beaujolais -and still don’t. Thanks to the co-operation of Air France and the French Embassy in Delhi and the French Consulate in Mumbai some hotels like the ITC Maurya and Imperial in Delhi and the then Pullman inn Gurgaon and a few in Mumbai organised the event frequently in the late 1980’s and 1990’s after which it lost its sheen universally but not before bringing Beaujolais on the world map. Cru Beaujolais, the premium wine from 10 top villages of the area, are some of the best value-for-money wines for Indian cuisine.
Dilip narrates an interesting episode relating to the wine knowledge those days. ‘Sansula had invited Mr Jean Guillaume Prats of Château Cos d'Estournel to the then Rotisserie in The Oberoi Bombay. One socialite walked up to Prats and told him that her husband loved Beaujolais and whether Cos produced this wine! It was early days and we were doing the dinner with the iconic Bordeaux Second Growth Château, and wanted to make an impression. So we had invited mostly knowledgeable and passionate collectors. It was an embarrassment to Mr Menon who went and searched for wines from Georges Duboeuf that was being imported then by the Taj group’.
The importer changed hands a few years later with Finewinesnmore taking over. When their business collapsed, this portfolio was taken over by Mohan Bros. Rohit Mehra, the owner says they have been importing a few of the labels ever since. He also confirms that barring one or two events during his tenure as the importer, the Beaujolais Nouveau could not be organised because of the stringent import procedures by FSSAI making it impossible to do so. The interest has been waning throughout the world during the last decade. The company used
to export a million cases to the US alone a decade ago but now the number has come down to 200,000 cases, indicating that the fervour for the fest is less now just like in India.
Georges Duboeuf has also itched his name in India through the Indian Wine Day which was started in India by the Indian Wine Academy in collaboration with the Lalit Hotels Hospitality group. 'While discussing the possible dates for the inaugural event in 2017, we figured if Georges could do it throughout the world for a small French village cluster, why not choose the same day? Since November 16, 2017 was the 3rd Thursday, we chose the date, even though it was inconvenient. For future events, we stuck to November 16 as the fixed date,' says Subhash Arora, President of the Indian Wine Academy.
His Son Franck took over the business when the father retired in 2016. Hopefully. He will carry on the tradition and legacy of his late father Georges Duboeuf with the same enthusiasm and continue to expand the business making value-for-money wines of decent quality. He has the distribution system well established with Mohan Bros. and Rohit Mehra who has been in the wine import business for nearly two decades.
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