Le marketing est arrivé – How Beaujolais Nouveau raced to the top
When you think about races in France the first two that probably come to mind are La Tour de France and Les Mans, but a third famous race has seen by far the greatest variety of ‘vehicles’. Contestants have used cars, trucks, motorcycles, balloons, helicopters, rickshaws, elephants and even a Concorde jet.
It’s a race that, for the last 50 years or so, has started at one minute past midnight on the third Thursday of November. It runs from a region, just north of Lyon, to the capital, Paris, and the contestants are all carrying the same thing – that year’s Beaujolais Nouveau. Their aim – to be the first to see the banners proclaiming “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!”
While Beaujolais Nouveau has a much longer history, it is only in these last fifty years that it has become a global event – an opportunity created, promoted and led by Jean Tixier, an advertising executive at Havas, Georges Duboeuf who founded his wine brand in 1964 and Pierre Boisset, a broker at Nicolas who persuaded his employer to start promoting it.
The Beaujolais region is 34 miles long and varies from 7 to 9 miles wide. It’s home to nearly 4,000 vineyards which produce the twelve officially-designated types of Beaujolais known as AOCs. These include some of the finest and priciest grand crus wines, including Fleurie and Cote de Brouilly. The most common two are the Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages, but the most famous wine is the Beaujolais Nouveau.
Beaujolais had always made a “vin de l’année” to celebrate the end of the harvest, which was drunk in the local bars, cafes, and bistros of Beaujolais and Lyons. Each autumn the new Beaujolais would arrive. It was a wine made quickly and designed to be consumed immediately – taking only weeks from grape to glass. The better Beaujolais were allowed to take a much more leisurely course.
In 1937 the Beaujolais AOC (appellation d’origine controlee) was established to help reflect and protect the quality of wines produced in the region, but AOC rules meant that Beaujolais wine could only be officially sold after 15 December in the year of harvest.
It wasn’t until after the war, on 13 November 1951, that this rule was relaxed, at which point the region’s governing body, the Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais (UIVB), formally set 15 November as the release date for what would henceforth be known as Beaujolais Nouveau.
Sales of the nouveau were still modest and mostly local, only 1 000 hl in 1960.
Led by Jean Tixier, Georges Duboeuf and Pierre Boisset, the UIVB set out to change things and to create a marketing event out of the release day. The Beaujolais Nouveau race and the “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!” slogan were born.
The race to be the first to deliver the new harvest’s wine to Paris quickly became a phenomenon, first in France, then across Europe,and by the 1970s it was starting to generate worldwide publicity. In the 1980s and 1990s the race itself was expanded to now include new final destinations in Japan and the United States.
In 1985, the release date was again changed, to the third Thursday of November, another clever marketing move to ensure it was always available just before a weekend and close to Thanksgiving in the U.S. which was by then and remains a major market.
The long running slogan was changed in 2005 to “It’s Beaujolais Nouveau time”.
Nowadays over 70 million bottles, nearly half of the region’s total annual production, will be Beaujolais Nouveau.
Georges Duboeuf remains a tireless promoter and more than a fifth of his annual production, about 4 million bottles, is Beaujolais Nouveau.