It was three o’clock in the afternoon when my nearest retailer — about ten miles away — got his shipment last Thursday of the New Beaujolais. Of course I was there shortly after he called. I’ve been trying to be among the first to get it for the entire thirty years or so the New Beajolais craze started 30 years ago. I even once hung around Georges Dubouef’s winery till midnight to be sure I was first. All around me helicopters, trucks, and vans were roaring away from his premises destined for Frankfurt, Paris, Lyon, and airports that would get the stuff to New York, London, Shanghai, and Sydney ASAP.
I walked through a rainy fog in the Cotswold Village of Broadway to the welcoming fireplace in the bar of the Lygon Arms to be there when the van dropped off the first case brought directly from Heathrow. I have watched Serge Dubs greet the driver from Beaujolais dropping off a load for the legendary Auberge de l’Ill, and I just missed a parachute drop in Indianapolis that got it to a Broad Ripple retailer before anyone else in Hoosierdom got their ration.
New Beaujolais is in my blood. Not because it’s good wine. Good? It’s delicious, but I’m not sure it’s really wine. Remember, it was on the vine only weeks before. It’s quenchable. It’s fun. It is not intimidated by anything, even all the flavors that go into a Thanksgiving dinner, and it will once again wash down my turkey and all its side dishes. But a good wine? Not one for keeping, to be sure, but for what it is, a splendid bargain at a range of nine to twelve dollars. Enjoy it, don’t deconstruct it.
No, it’s just the tradition that has captured my heart. You can’t not like something that has worked so hard to be recognized, so hard to be loved, only to be scorned almost days later, certainly before it can start fermenting again in just a few short weeks. It is so recognized that it has imitators in wine regions around the world, including Indiana. True, this emulation has diminished somewhat the original passion, the early joy at getting those first bottles, but even today Beaujolais vintners will send 300 million bottles around the world, not to be sold till the third Thursday in November. (In recent years, French law has been altered a bit to allow shipments for far away places to be moved before that date just so they’ll be in place in time for the big day, a move that has made it unnessary for private pilots to fly under Tower Bridge or land on the Loire River in order to beat out other delivery services.)
Duboeuf remains the biggest name in Beaujolais. While he didn’t “invent” Nouveau, he certainly turned the stuff into a worldwide commodity. I seldom go to France without calling on him — and lately his son Franck –because I admire his work, his passion, his humor, and his friendliness. There are other producers who send Nouveau to America, but his name is by far the biggest seller.
As the big day approached this year, I looked down the invitation list to Beaujolais parties: New York, Los Angles, Houston, to be sure, but the list running some three pages single-spaced included places all around the country, including Story, Indiana. Mark your calendar now — in 2013 the New Beaujolais will arrive on November 21. Wherever you’ll be, you’ll find a party.