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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Beaujolais Nouveau: 13 things you need to know about France’s famous wine

Thursday is Beaujolais Nouveau Day in France, the day bottles of red hit the shelves. But how much do you know about the famous (or perhaps infamous) wine?

Beaujolais Nouveau: 13 things you need to know about France's famous wine
Makers of beaujolais nouveau are trying to claw back its reputation. Photo: AFP
Every third Thursday of November France celebrates Beaujolais Nouveau Day, with tasting sessions and festivals.
 
So to mark the day, here are some facts about the wine you might not know.
 
1. It’s France’s most famous ‘primeur’

A primeur is essentially a young wine that is produced quickly. In the case of Beaujolais Nouveau, it is on the shelves between six to eight weeks after the grapes are harvested. The short time span means winemakers have to use special artisanal techniques and yeasts to speed up the fermentation process.

For this reason many wine snobs won’t go near it.

2. Beaujolais Nouveau wine is very popular   

Despite not having the best reputation (imbuvable – undrinkable some say) There are some 25 million bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau produced each year.

Several million bottles head off to the US and some seven million of those are shipped off to Japan where the thirst for the wine is immense, particularly at the country’s wine spas, where people can bathe in the drink.

3. But it’s not the heady days of the 1980s

This was the decade when Beaujolais Nouveau began to cause a lot of excitement around the world. But sales have plunged since then (by 64 percent in the last 12 years), and today some ten million fewer bottles are sold in comparison. Its rise to fame was helped by a producer named Geroges Dubeouf who came up with the tagline: Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!

There used to be annual race to get the bottles to Paris and beyond until some ground rules were set.

4. Third Thursday in November

The set day for the release date of the Beaujolais was established back in 1985.

It was decided that the third Thursday in November would be the uniform release date.

Wines are shipped round the world a few days before but must be stored in locked warehouses until 12.01am on the Thursday. The festival is in Lyon where barrels of Beaujolais Nouveau wine are rolled by wine-growers through the centre before being opened.

5. And there are tough rules surrounding how it’s made too

For a start it has to be made with the Gamay grape, first brought to France by the Romans.

The grapes must come from the Beaujolais AOC and must be harvested by hand. The wine is produced using the whole grape without extracting bitter tannins from the grape skins. The local authority will set the date for the harvest each year, depending on when the grapes are ready.

6. Where is Beaujolais anyway?

The Beaujolais wine takes its name from the historical Province of Beaujolais, the wine producing region to the north of Lyon. The wine is made in the northern part of the Rhône department and southern area of the Saône-et-Loire department which is in the region of Burgundy.

7. And it’s not just the Nouveau that’s made in Beaujolais

While the Beaujolais Nouveau gets all the headlines, it’s far from the only wine made in the region. Between around a third and one half of the Beaujolais region’s vineyards are dedicated to producing Beaujolais Nouveau, but the rest of the area is used for making other wines such as Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais-Villages AOC and Beaujolais Cru – the highest category of wine, where the name Beaujolais will not even appear.

Instead it will be the name of the village like Brouilly.

Photo: AFP

8. What does it taste like?

It tastes of “black fruits, flowers (peonies and lilac) spices and liquorice” according to the experts. 

9. People used to say it tasted of bananas…

Beaujolais Nouveau used to be described as tasting of bananas. 

But the Beaujolais winemakers, linked by the organisation Inter-Beaujolais are these days eager to change the image of the wine, suggesting that the marketing of Beaujolais Nouveau may have boosted sales over the years, but hardly helped the image of the wine.

The famous Goût de banane label they want to get rid of comes from the yeast, known as 71B, that is used to make the wine and get it ready in time for its release. And because of the addition of sugars to boost the level of alcohol.

Back in 2001 over one million cases had to be destroyed as the public turned on the wine after a low quality version flooded the market. It was famously called a vin de merde (shit wine) by one critic.

So there is no talk of the goût de banane anymore with producers trying to focus on producing a decent wine. Instead, this year’s vintage has been described as tasting of ‘red berries, flowers and spices’.

10. Festival

The biggest festival always takes place in Beaujeu, the capital of the Beaujolais region. People come from far and wide to see the bells ring in the new vintage at midnight, kicking off four days of partying and celebration.

11. Not all fast-track wines come from Beaujolais

The idea of making a wine in six weeks is a novelty that is catching on in other parts of France where winemakers in the Rhône and Provence have cottoned on to the commercial benefits of getting wine on the shelves before Christmas.

12. No point keeping Beaujolais for the birth of your children

Beaujolais Nouveau is not a wine you can lay down for years with the idea of opening it for a special occasion. But a good bottle of Beaujolais could be kept for six months to a year, wine experts say. 

13. But how much does it cost?

Part of the appeal of Beaujolais Nouveau wine is that in comparison to other vintages it’s relatively affordable. If you’re looking to enjoy a bottle from the comfort of your own home – as we all will be this year – it will set you back €3-10, whereas in a restaurant you would have to fork out €10-35. 

Member comments

  1. That smell of bananas (or nail polish remover) is acetone which results directly from the high acidity of Beaujolais. Why anybody would want to drink that stuff I do not know. Beaujolais Nouveau is a travesty of wine and the idea of the Village stuff (Morgon, Brouilly, Chiroubles etc) is that if you are really careful and selective in production, use the best grapes available and keep the wine for a number of years then you might, just might, end up with something that measures up to one of the lesser Pinot wines produced by co-ops in much greater quantity and at less than half the price of the Village wines.

    1. Acetone in beaujolais? Rubbish, you must be drinking the strong stuff. Just like the article says, the strain of yeast they use naturally produces the banana flavour, which is isoamyl acetate not nail polish remover!

  2. It is a tradition in wine tasting to do just that, taste and then spit it out.
    With Beajolais nouveaux it is best not to do either, just put it straight on to your frites.
    It makes a great alternative, if expensive, alternative to vinegar.

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BUSINESS

‘I’ll never complain about URSSAF Again’: How two British brewers made it in France

Two months after brewing their first-ever beers in 2018, likely lads Tim Longstaff and Ash Smith bought a professional beer-making kit and started a brewery in the French Alps. Now, they sell 30,000 pints a month...

'I'll never complain about URSSAF Again': How two British brewers made it in France

“Sometimes opportunities just present themselves,” was the modest way Tim Longstaff described his and business partner Ash Smith’s successful decision to open a small craft brewery in the French Alps despite having no brewing experience and little experience of running a business in France.

“In France you could see, if you looked around in Lyon or Paris, that craft beer was happening here,” he said. “There’s that cliche that France is 10 years behind the UK – it was inevitable there would be a craft beer boom here, like there had been in the UK. 

“We thought if we don’t do it, someone else will.”

Nine years earlier, new graduate Tim had headed to the Alps for a seasonal job on the slopes. He had, by his own admission, no idea what to do next with his life, but thought idly that opening a brewery in the mountains might be ‘cool’.

“I moved here in 2013 to do a ski season in Les Arcs,” he said. “I came over after university when the craft beer scene had exploded in the UK. I was always surprised there was no good beer here.”

“I went back to the UK for a while and moved back to Chamonix in 2017 and – again – there was no good beer. Me and Ash Smith, my business partner, were bored of drinking crap, fizzy lagers, so we decided we’d learn to brew and start a brewery.”

From such crazy ideas, successful businesses grow. The location was right. The business was right. The timing was – just about – right.

“It was winter, January 2018,” Tim, 30, said. “We decided we’d start learning to brew. We bought some small homebrew equipment, 25-litre stuff. I did our first brew in March 2018. And in May 2018, we signed all the paperwork for a 500 litre brewing equipment with four 1,200-litre fermentation tanks.

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“We installed it in October – Nov 2018. That was our first winter season – we were running as a proper brewery, brewing 700 litres at a time. 

“We went from literally reading a few books and watching some Youtube videos, we produced one beer that we thought was reasonable, and that was it. We went to the bank, got a loan, put some money in ourselves and went for it. It was pretty ballsy, I guess.”

The pair’s Sapaudia Brewing Co is ideally placed in Aime-la-Plagne, in the heart of the world’s biggest ski area. “In terms of a market, especially in the winter, we couldn’t have asked for a better location,” Tim said. 

Picture: courtesy of Sapaudia Brewing Co

“It was a bit of a risk, but we were both in a place in our lives where we decided to just take a punt. We knew we were at the start of something in France. When we set up, there were two other breweries in this area – they were quite small – and there are now about 14 breweries of different sizes within an hour of where we are.

“A friend has a really small brewery that does 100 litre brews that he only sells in his restaurant, and there’s us who sell 30,000 pints a month in our biggest months. And there’s everything in between in this area.”

A business loan got the pair started, even though, in Tim’s words the bank’s business manager ‘didn’t have a clue what we were on about’, but getting through to local bars was a different matter. 

“When we started chatting to bars, the two references for beer are the Belgian styles – they’re quite strong – and then everything’s by colour. 

“So we’d say, ‘we’ve brewed an IPA’ and they’d ask ‘is it a blond, or a blanche?’, and we’d say, ‘no – it’s an IPA’, and no one knew what that was. They’d call it a blond because it was the same colour as a blond beer. But now IPA has become a massive buzzword [here].”

It seemed the pair had tapped into something – but then Covid hit. And everything shut down. 

Tim believes that French government help for the hospitality industry played a key role in ensuring the new business that was just starting to blossom would survive. 

Picture: courtesy of Sapaudia Brewing Co

The support from the French government was nothing short of incredible,” he said. “If we had set up in the UK, I think we’d be gone. Speaking to friends in the UK who have businesses – the difference in the financial support we received was night and day.

“I’m not sure I’ll ever complain about paying URSSAF stuff again after the help we got.”

Even with all the help, times were hard. Neither Tim nor 43-year-old Ash could afford to pay themselves any wages from Sapaudia during the long lockdowns. “It was a case of reduce spending, pay the necessary bills – rent, electricity and stuff – and just try and fight through.”

Pivoting from working with businesses, such as bars, to sales with individuals was not straightforward, though they tried. “We’re set-up to do keg sales – getting in bars, on tap,” Tim said. “We did flip a bit – we tried to sell bottles but we don’t have a proper bottling machine. We’re not set up to do thousands of bottles a day. We did some 5-litre mini kegs which sold pretty well around Christmas time.

“But it was tough, especially round here. It’s a massive tourist area, everyone’s business was decimated. People have tightened their belts and haven’t been spending.” 

The business came through the Covid lockdowns intact. And it is now operating flat out. “As soon as everything opened up, orders started to come back – and they came back really strong,” Tim said.

“I was worried we wouldn’t be able to pick up where we’d stopped. I didn’t know how the market was going to be, but it was almost like nothing had happened. It was – bang – back to where we were.”

And the first close-to full winter season after Covid was just what the brewery needed – despite a scare when British holidaymakers were stopped from travelling by concern over the Omicron variant.

“This winter’s been massive. Everyone needed a big winter. The Brits getting banned from travelling back in December was a bit of a kick in the teeth for a lot of people. But, from February onwards … I can always tell how busy a week’s been by how many empty kegs we get back in a week. The week the British returned, our distributor had to bring a lorry – there were six pallets of empty kegs. I thought “yeah – the Brits are back”.

More official help for the business came when they were looking to hire a full-time employee. Pôle emploi offered to pay the wages of a local worker during a 12-week formation – and give Sapaudia €5 an hour on the promise he was given an open-ended CDI contract at the end of the period. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Having lived in France since 2017, neither Tim nor Ash – both of them originally from Stockton-on-Tees – found any problems applying for post-Brexit titres de séjour. 

“Politically Brexit bothered me,” Tim said. “Personally, I was here and had all the paperwork, so when I went for my carte de séjour, it was almost too easy. “France made the system really easy and wanted people to stay.”

From a business point of view, however, there have been issues. “We used to work with UK suppliers – we used to get branded beer glasses from a firm in Halifax, and got other bits of promo material from Britain and we’ve had to stop using them. A lot of them won’t ship to us because it’s too much of a headache.

“The company that print the beer glasses told me they are not allowed now to print the CE logo onto the glass … we get our glasses from Germany now.

But he knows other local businesses have found it harder than they have. “The majority of our clients here are British-run bars and they struggled so much to get staff this winter.”

READ ALSO ‘So many barriers since Brexit’: The French ski businesses no longer willing to hire Brits

And, despite the forced two-year break due to Covid, Tim’s sure he and Ash were right to take a risk four years ago.

“No one saw the pandemic coming – I don’t think you’d take a risk on anything in life if you thought there’d be a pandemic round the corner. 

“In terms of our numbers, when we did our business plan, we’re exactly where we projected we’d be, with a two-year delay because of Covid. Everything’s going the way it should be, it’s just that we were put on pause.”

Now, they’re looking to grow, and take the business year-round.

“I just got off the phone this morning with an equipment supplier. We want to expand in autumn 2023. This winter we reached capacity of our current equipment – and we’re having to throttle sales back a little. 

“We’re massively seasonal – winter’s really big, and we’re working to make summer as big as winter so we have a distribution partner in Lyon and we’ve got a sales rep working in the west coast in the Hossegar area.

There’s a reason that their business plan jumps from the mountains of the east to the shores of the west. Many people who spend their winters in the Alps head for the surf towns of the Atlantic in the summer. The idea is to let word of mouth from the east spread their IPA gospel in the west, too. And in cans, too. Part of the next phase of the firm’s could include an online store, selling Sapaudia beer to individuals across France. 

 

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