Beaujolais Nouveau

Book your tickets for Beaujolais Nouveau 2016  November 25 at The Shared Yandina: HERE

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Each year around the third Thursday of November, the Alliance Française de la Sunshine Coast organises an event to mark this important date in the French cultural calendar.  In partnership with other Alliances Française in Australia, we import the Beaujolais Nouveau so that our members can participate in this global event.

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How do French celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau?

At the strike of midnight on the third Thursday of every November, France erupts in massive celebration in honor of the unveiling (or should we say uncorking) of the Beaujolais Nouveau wine. Beaujolais Nouveau, which is a young wine (only 6 weeks old) comes from a region south of Burgundy in France.

It is rumored that the light-bodied and fruity wine must be finished by Christmas time and the French government has put regulations delaying the wine’s release until the third week in November. This means the arrival of the new Beaujolais is warmly welcomed in France.

All over the country, grand traditions have developed in honor of the release of the Beaujolais, with the biggest festival taking place in Beaujeu, the capital of the Beaujolais region. This little city springs to life during this weekend in November, hosting a massive party called Sarmentelles. The party gets its name from the french word for cuttings from the canes of grapevines called sarments, which are burned in the center of town just prior to the grand midnight unveiling. Then the huge barrels are opened to much fanfare and party-goers indulge in the new wine for the festival’s 3 day duration.

Other areas in France also boisterously celebrate the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau. Lyon hosts the Beaujolympiades (Beaujolympics), marking the release of the wine with music and fireworks followed by 2 days of sampling. In Paris, restaurants and bistros host their Beaujolais Nouveau parties, staying open through the night and uncorking hundreds of bottles after midnight. Wherever you may be traveling in France, this is a great night to celebrate life, wine, and a grand French tradition.

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Why is the Opening of Beaujolais Nouveau such an event?

Before the First World War, cafés in Lyon would purchase barrels of Beaujolais before fermentation was completed. The wine was purchased straight from the press and the jolting the wine received on the rough roads to Lyon stimulated the fermentation, which was completed in the cafés’ cellars.

During the journey the bungs in the barrels were eased to release the carbon dioxide produced by the fermentation process. Several days after arrival in Lyon, having settled the liquid would clear naturally producing a fruity and delicate wine that became the toast of Lyon. The communes that produced this Nouveau were Saint Etienne-des-Oullieres, Saint Etienne-la-Varenne, La Perréon and Blacé – now the most southern communes of Beaujolais-Villages.

During the Second World War Parisian journalists, evacuated to Lyon, discovered this young wine and on returning to Paris encouraged their own bistros to seek out and serve it.

Following the War a succession of decrees were issued seeking to control the release of quality wines and finally on the 8th September 1951 a decree stipulated that no appellation controlée wine could be released from the cellars until the 15th December (a law which still applies today). The growers in Beaujolais immediately sought to obtain a special dispensation, recognising the special qualities of the Gamay to produce a wine for early consumption. This was obtained on 13th November 1951 and marks the start of the Beaujolais Nouveau phenomenon, although at the time barely 2 million bottles were sold (today over 35 million bottles are sold). Over the following years the release date varied until 15th November 1967 when it was confirmed as the 15th November.
Initially the bandwagon was slow to pick up speed but once it started rolling it quickly gained momentum.  The concept of a wine held in the cellars until midnight of 14th/15th November then driven first to Paris, and subsequently to other European capitals, particularly London, captured the imagination of the public and before long prizes were being offered for the first bottle to be received at functions all over Europe, arranged to celebrate the release.

The race to get the first bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau had begun.

First cars and motor bikes, then planes, helicopters and finally, Concorde and RAF Harrier Jump Jets were pressed into service as year after year the excitement mounted and the stunts became more extreme.  The lovely thing about it was that there never was an official race yet each year you could meet a least a dozen people who had “won” and many more who had met the winner, so there were no losers.  Several people died in accidents while attempting to bring the wine to their respective countries. The worst accident involved a plane that crashed in the south of England while bringing the Nouveau to Ireland with a loss of eight lives.

Finally in the 1980s, the rules governing the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau were changed and the wine could be moved to French frontiers and, in certain cases, beyond, up to three days before the release date. This certainly took the steam out of the Nouveau race but not the indomitable victors who are still competing and winning!

Now the wine can be moved to anywhere in the world before the release date but it can’t be opened until the day.

The statutory date of 15th November caused problems because in some years the harvest could fluctuate by as much as a month and in the poorer years the wine was just not ready which meant postponing the release date as happened in 1977 and 1980 and in many other years, such as 1984, when, though not delayed, the preparation was unduly rushed.

From 1985 the release date was changed to the third Thursday in November as it stands today. This does little to allow extra time for fermentation but it does ensure that the wine can be launched each year, for the weekend, which is important for promotional success.