November 9th, 2023
In the northern hemisphere, the pagan or religious celebrations that surround the autumnal equinox have always been celebrated with festivals of the end of the harvest, as well as the first primeur wines of the year—this is the celebration of the "Nouveau" wine. At this time, the wine is in its most natural state, at its freshest, and the least altered by time (meaning no vinegar and oxidation). These primeur wines have always been simple, popular, and very inexpensive, and the Beaujolais region of Burgundy is the poster child for this.
With the famous celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau, these wines are a perfect example of the "Natural" wine that is so popular today. Thanks to its aromatics and friendly taste, Gamay Noir (the grape of Beaujolais) became the primeur wine of Parisian wine bistros and cafés starting in the nineteenth century. Seeing Beaujolais’ success with their Nouveau wine, other wine regions in France started to release their own Nouveau wine, flooding the market. And so in 1951, a law was passed in France that prohibited the sale of wine produced during that same year to be sold before December 15, as to ensure it was properly refined. The producers of Beaujolais revolted against the law, and the French legislation made an exception for this region by allowing the sale of their primeur wines from the 3rd Thursday of November (which in 2023 is on the 16th) on the condition that they are designated as "Nouveau" on the label. With this exception, the door was wide open for Beaujolais Nouveau to conquer the markets by distributing their primeur wines a month in advance from other wine regions of France.
But there he is, a wolf in the sheepfold, Be careful!
Fascinated by its regional popularity, a French wine merchant named Georges Duboeuf popularized this wine worldwide through an extraordinary marketing and sales campaign in the 80s. It reached the point where French legislation allowed him to export his wine all over the world, by air, well before the third Thursday of the month, so that the “Beaujolais Nouveau” would be on the shelves of retailers by D-Day.
We can now see clearly that the popularity of Beaujolais Nouveau has been and continues to be an ecological disaster, because this little "Nouveau" wine now represents a production of more than 10 million bottles a year, of which more than 46% (4.6 million) are destined for export. Yes, 4.6 million bottles on planes from New York to Tokyo, via Helsinki or Cape Town. But as if that were the only problem!
Producing so many bottles in such a short time, on such a small vineyard region area, requires a "Sur-Natural" effort. This means the wine undergoes the complete industrial treatment: unconventionally "natural" mechanical manipulations, such as injecting carbon dioxide in the tanks, the use of commercial industrial yeasts (to achieve that signature banana taste of Beaujolais Nouveau), and the complete battery of chemical inputs in order to stabilize, correct, refine, and improve this wine so quickly to be superficially good to drink by the 3rd Thursday in November. And I will not even talk about sulfites!
So if you sincerely believe in the fundamental foundations of the "Natural Wine" movement, which I remind you, only promotes totally organic agricultural practices (without chemicals, weedkillers, pesticides, insecticides, or fungicides), no addition of inputs in the cellar tank, and also respects the logic of the movement, which means that vinification is done on a human scale (no mega productions in concrete or stainless steel tanks that can hold thousands of gallons).
I ask you, for the sake of your health and the planet’s health, not to buy, support, promote or celebrate the "Beaujolais Nouveau 2023" on November 16th. Instead, we should celebrate "AMERICAN NOUVEAU WINE" by buying a new "Natural" 2023 wine, on this date or for Thanksgiving. Then, you will be truly celebrating the feast of the Winter Equinox with joy and collective responsibility, so that the future generation can also celebrate the harvest of abundance that this land generously offers us, which unfortunately we mistreat so brutally for reasons so far from "natural".
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
And RIP Mr. G. Duboeuf
P.S. There are still true natural Beaujolais Nouveau to be found, but you need to be ready to pay the price, and don’t expect it to be on the shelves in the U.S. on the 16th of November.
Why not try some...American Nouveau?
Here are some Nouveau-style wines, in the true, original sense, that are available at Bonde:
- Gilbert Cellars, Pinot Noir Nouveau 2022, Horse Heaven Hills, Columbia Gorge, WA
- Margins Wine, Négrette 2021, Calleri Vineyard, Tres Pinos, San Benito County, Central Valley, CA
- Stolpman Vineyards, "Combe" Trousseau 2021, Santa Barbara, CA
- Two Shepherds, Wiley 2021, Carbonic Carignan, Trimble Vineyard, Mendocino , CA
- Pax Mahle Wines, Mission 2021, Somers Vineyard, Lodi, Central Valley, CA
- Broc Cellars, "Ayay!" 2022, Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino, North Coast, CA