Soon, there will be white smoke in Burgundy; the Pope of Beaujolais died this weekend. George Duboeuf, French wine’s high profile negociant and ambassador, passed away at the age of 86-years-old this weekend.
Duboeuf’s impact on the French wine world—and on the palates of American consumers— can not be overstated. Almost single-handedly, the producer transformed Beaujolais from a little known vins de primeur into a household name around the globe.
Duboeuf was born in 1933 in Crêches-sur-Saône, near the village of Chaintré, in the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation of France. According to his daughter, the legend p[assed aways about ten kilometers south of his birthplace in Romanèche-Thorins.
Duboeuf burst onto the wine scene in the 1950’s when he formed the L’Écrin Mâconnais-Beaujolais, a trade group comprised of local producers. Although that group later disbanded due to internal politics, the experience allowed the young man to hone his skills as a promoter and to forge relationships with accounts and growers.
In 1964, Duboeuf founded his soon to be legendary negociant business. The fledgeling company purchased grapes from smaller growers and produced a portfolio of light, fruity cuvées including Beaujolais Nouveau.
In the 1950’s, other producers began to push Beaujolais Nouveau by setting a standardized release date, but Georges Duboeuf really took it to the next level beginning in the 70’s. The negociant was a natural hype man and his colorful labeling and ceaseless promotion of “Beaujolais Day” transformed the previously niche product into a phenomenon in Europe. In the 90’s, Beaujolais Nouveau blew up in the States where shrewd marketers seized upon the wine’s release date exactly one week before Thanksgiving Day.
When Duboeuf retired in 2108, the company was reporting annual sales of 30 million bottles internationally.
In response to Duboeuf’s death, his comrade, French culinary icon, Paul Bocuse exclaimed “infinite sadness.” The chef said that Beaujolais lost its “best ambassador and an exceptional man.”
Across the French food world, this sentiment was echoed. Dominique Piron, President of the Inter Beaujolais Group, said Duboeuf “”He had a nose, intuition, and was a step ahead of his time.