Posted: Nov 17, 2018
It’s ironic that Donald Trump was in a Twitter spat this week against France and its wine, just before Beaujolais Nouveau Day. It may help the reversal of fortune of this very singular French wine by increasing sales in the US.
President Trump’s trip to France last weekend to mark the centenary of the armistice at the end of World War I in 1918 caused a headache for everyone concerned, before anyone had even mentioned wine. Macron made comments about the possibility of creating an European army; Trump retaliated with a tweet about how the US saved France in World War II — 'they were starting to learn German in Paris before the US came along'. Trump then took aim on the French wine industry. He suggested unfair trade practices by France to protect their wine industry, applying tariffs on US wine when it arrives on French soil, which the US doesn’t do in return. 'Not fair, must change,' he tweeted.
As reported in the NY Times this week, Trump is half-right. Steeper tariffs are applied by the French on US wines than the US apply to French wines, but this is decided by the European Union, of which France is just one of 28 countries. However, it’s worth noting that these tariffs are often applied on the strength of the wine, rather than their origin and New World wines tend to be higher in alcohol content than their Old World cousins.
Beaujolais Nouveau is what is known as a ‘primeur’ in France; a wine that is drunk immediately after harvesting. Six to eight weeks after the grapes are picked in the Beaujolais region of France – north of the city of Lyon – the wine is bottled and immediately sent to shops and bars to be opened and drunk. Beaujolais Nouveau wine is always released to the public, by law, on Beaujolais Nouveau Day which is the third Thursday of November (this year, it fell on 15th November). After numerous celebrations, launches and a procession from the Beaujolais region to Paris, (in the 1970s it used to be a race by wine producers to see who could get there with the first bottle) it is then shipped around the world.
Unlike other regions, it is grown by smaller farmers (about 400 growers) and often produced in co-operatives; it’s a harvest that really does keep the local economy alive. And this wine growing region has a reputation which is unlike any other. The Champagne region has a sense of glamour and decadence, Burgundy is serious, Bordeaux is probably more commercial but Beaujolais wine is fun, no doubt to do with the fact that the wine is actually drunk and enjoyed immediately after the hard work is done.
It was this party ambience which was exported with each bottle of wine in the late 1970s and particularly the 1980 and 1990s. At its heyday in the UK for instance, Beaujolais parties were held everywhere in November, with typical scenes of purple balloons, overindulgence, staggering drunkenness and purple vomit. It developed a reputation for being an incredibly poor quality wine, drunk at tasteless parties.
Beaujolais has always been an affordable wine with a lower reputation than others, partly because it is often served chilled, unlike any other red wine, to bring out the fresh flavours (many wine connoisseurs pronounce it undrinkable). It has always been on the gaudy end of the marketing spectrum, sold with colourful labels in the US to advertise its fruity taste. In the past, people often spoke of it as tasting of bananas. But Beaujolais Nouveau has always played along, offering a celebration of wine that is affordable, accessible to the masses and just plain fun.
However, in recent years, with declining sales, the image of Beaujolais has been steered away from the garish and into the respectable. Some 25 million bottles are still produced each year, many sent off to the US and Japanese markets, although this is 64% lower than was produced twenty years ago. At its peak in the UK in 1999, British shops sold 740,000 bottles. By 2012, this number had reduced to just 100,000.
Growers and marketers have done well to refocus its image. It helps that the 2018 vintage is regarded as one of the best in a while, due to the climate, and the new crop was described this week as being wonderfully fruity with a balanced acidity. Sales have been increasing slowly year on year with a loyal fan base in America. It has always been a great marketing match, arriving fresh onto the wine market with a fanfare the week before Thanksgiving – it is often marketed in the US as a perfect wine pairing with turkey. Indeed, the idea of developing Nouveau wines is taking off with US wine growers, mainly younger wine growers who like the idea of producing wine which can be enjoyed and finished off before the holiday season arrives in December.
Today the future of the Beaujolais Nouveau wine economy is slowly on the up again, particularly in the US — and Trump’s tweets will probably only serve to promote it further; which comes as welcome relief to the local economy and to light-hearted, fun-loving wine lovers everywhere.
By Alex Ledsom
November 17, 2018
Go-Wine's mission is to organize food and beverage information and make it universally accessible and beneficial. These are the benefits of sharing your article in Go-Wine.com