Each year, on the third Thursday in November the Beaujolais wine producers release their Beaujolais nouveau. What was once a very local tradition has in recent decades become an international race to bring Beaujolais nouveau to markets around the world. Beaujolais is a small region to the north of Lyon that has been producing wines since Roman times.
To begin with, the wine producers of the area created a ‘wine of the year’ simply to celebrate the end of harvest. Thus the wine was only fermented for a few weeks, and was intended for immediate consumption, certainly not later than a few months. It was not until the establishment of the Beaujolais Nouveau AOC just before the second World War that the release date for this wine was set at 15 December each year. The release date was changed to 15 November in the early 1950s.
Wine producers began to see the marketing potential of the Beaujolais Nouveau, and by the 1970s the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau and the race to get the first bottles to Paris became a national event attracting considerable media attention. The ‘race’ to deliver the first bottle soon spread to other countries in Europe, in the 1980s, and North American and Asia in the 1990s. And, because of the marketability of Beaujolais Nouveau, in 1985 the release date was changed to the third Thursday in November so as to make the most of wine consumption during the weekend that followed.
Not only is the race to get Beaujolais Nouveau to various destinations the focus of much celebration, but today the town of Beaujeu annually organises a four day fête to celebrate the first tasting of Beaujolais Nouveau. The ‘Sarmentelles de Beaujeu’ is a must for wine lovers who enjoy the history and tradition of wine-making; each year, during the third week of November, thousands of people converge on Beaujeu to be the first to taste this wine – making this the European destination for wine buffs. For 2010, the festival starts on the evening of 17 November and lasts on to midnight for the first tastings.
To be amongst the first to taste Beaujolais Nouveau, the perfect excuse for a long weekend break to the south of France in Autumn! There is still time to plan your break.
The photographs used in the post were taken by gilletdaniel during the Sarmentelles de Beaujeu in 2003.