Just in time for the annual November celebration of France’s Beaujolais Nouveau comes a new book detailing the history of Beaujolais, Rudolph Chelminski’s I’ll Drink To That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World’s Most Popular Wine.
The French peasant at the center of Chelminski’s long-titled book is Georges Duboeuf, the peasant winegrower who would go on to become the “King of Beaujolais,” as he’s known throughout the wine world. (Duboeuf currently sells about $100 million in Beaujolais yearly.) But I’ll Drink To That isn’t only the Georges Duboeuf story. Francophile Chelminski succeeds in relating the fascinating history of Beaujolais wine and its humble grape, Gamay, with both historical acuity and great humor—not an easy feat. For certain, this isn’t just another mundane, wine-stained treatise for oenological pinheads.
For example, in a chapter titled “Vile and Noxious, Downtrodden and Despised,” Chelminski brings to life Philip the Bold, the youngest son of King John II who, in 1395, issued the edict to his subjects that “the vile and noxious Gamay plant be ripped out and never again put into the ground.” Thus begins the fascinating history of a grape and a wine that would go on to be devastated by phylloxera yet eventually become the drink of choice in Parisian bistros and brasseries. By 2006, Duboeuf would ship 2.6 million bottles of his Beaujolais Nouveau to the United States.
In some ways, I’ll Drink To That is a rags-to-riches, Cinderella tale of the Rodney Dangerfield of wines. Beaujolais has always lacked the cachet of its chic siblings from more prestigious parts of Burgundy. And yet, in this century, it has become one of the world’s most consumed wines. For that, most the credit has to go to Duboeuf who opened the first-ever caveau de degustation (wine-tasting room) in Beaujolais, got Michelin three-star chef Paul Bocuse on board with Beaujolais and then, in 1970, launched what would go on to become the most impressive marketing feat in the history of the wine business.
Although Beaujolais comes in many styles and levels of quality, Duboeuf put the most inferior version on the map on Nov. 15, 1970, when, in Paris, a small yellow handbill announced to bistro goers, “Le Beaujolais Nouveau ést Arrivé!” Since then, restaurants around the world compete to be the first to serve Beaujolais Nouveau after its annual release on the third Thursday of November. In chapters such as “Whither Beaujolais?” Chelminski wrestles with consequences of Beaujolais Nouveau’s market domination at the expense of more noble Beaujolais wines like Morgon, Brouilly, Chiroubles, Juliénas, Chénas and such. It’s a fun and fascinating read for anyone with even an inkling of interest in wine.
Sips: This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Wasatch Food and Wine Society’s Nouveau Beaujolais Festival. The festival will be held Sunday, Nov. 18, at Deer Valley’s Silver Lake Lodge from 3-6 p.m. According to Deer Valley’s wine buyer and Snow Park Lodge manager Kris Anderson, “The Nouveau Beaujolais Festival has become a cherished annual event here at Deer Valley, both for our guests and our staff. It’s easy to see why it’s been happening for 25 years.” As always, classic Burgundian dishes such as rillettes, cassoulet, escargot and bouchées with crayfish nantua will be served. And, of course, Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2007 will be flowing from casks and bottles. The cost is $80 per person and reservations are a must, as the event sells out annually. Phone Kris Anderson at 435-645-6640 for reservations.