Wine merchant Georges Duboeuf had been dubbed the ‘king of Beaujolais’, and sometimes the ‘Pope’, long before news of his death at the age of 86 on 5 January 2020.
Both nicknames demonstrate the magnitude of his influence on a French wine region famous for its Gamay wines but which has sometimes been overshadowed by more renowned winemaking areas of France.
Duboeuf, born on 14 April 1933, is arguably best known for helping to put the tradition of Beaujolais Nouveau on the global stage; a celebration of the first wines from the new vintage that takes place on the third Thursday of November.
He was also a passionate advocate of Beaujolais wines in general, telling Decanter’s John Livingstone-Learmonth in 2001, ‘Our ace card is the style of wine. It’s not like anywhere else. The fruit and the suave style cannot be repeated.’
How it began
Duboeuf was born at Crèches into a family of vineyard owners in Pouilly-Fuissé in southern Burgundy.
He initially spent time working in Paris, although the lifestyle didn’t suit and he returned south to Mâcon to learn more about the wine trade.
After starting to supply local restaurants by visiting a network of growers and bottling their wines on-site, he created a growers’ association known as Ecrin Mâconnais-Beaujolais.
Then, in 1964, Duboeuf founded his own merchant business focused on Beaujolais wines, which has stood the test of time and is today run by his son, Franck.
Duboeuf refused to take credit for creating the Nouveau tradition, in an interview with wine writer Anthony Rose for Decanter in 2007.
It was the Beaujolais wine union UIVB that took advantage of new rules in 1951 to set 15 November as the release date for the new vintage.
And Duboeuf recalled that UIVB director Gérard Canard had the idea to turn long-standing local celebrations of the new vintage into a sort of ‘Bastille day for wine’ – a reference to France’s national day on 14 July.
However, Duboeuf subsequently swung behind the move and certainly did more than most to bring Nouveau parties to wine lovers outside France.
Duboeuf was also a strong proponent for the quality and diversity of Beaujolais wines.
‘Why were we so successful? Maybe thanks to a flair for marketing, or the ability to communicate a passion for the product,’ he said of his merchant business in 2007.
‘Beaujolais is about capturing the quintessence of Gamay, of the terroir and always the stamp of the vigneron. There’s no good négociant without a good vigneron.’
Dominique Piron, president of the Inter Beaujolais trade body, paid tribute to Georges Duboeuf’s life and said his name would be forever written into Beaujolais history.
‘Thank you Monsieur Georges for everything you brought to this region, you were the honour of Beaujolais,’ he said.
From the archive:
Georges Duboeuf in his own words (interview from 2007)