Beaujolais, Georges Duboeuf and the Evolution of Nouveau: Rudolph Chelminski Discusses His New Book

Each year at 12:01 AM on the third Thursday of November, millions of bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau begin a journey from a little French village to locales across the globe. Wine stores and cafes enthusiastically greet these shipments with signs and banners proclaiming "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!" "The New Beaujolais has arrived!". With this begins the annual celebration of the arrival of the French wine Beaujolais Nouveau, a celebration steeped in tradition, frivolity, grandeur, legend, and of course, fabulous wine.

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Rudolph Chelminski, in his book I’LL DRINK TO THAT: Beaujolais Nouveau and the French Peasant Who Made it the World’s Most Popular Wine, draws on decades of first hand perspective to detail how the people, land, and culture of Beaujolais -not to mention a peasant vintner named Georges Duboeuf- come together to form the most unique of wine stories. IntoWine.com recently had the pleasure of chatting with Rudolph Chelminski about Beaujolais and the new book.

What inspired you to write a book about Beaujolais Nouveau and Georges Duboeuf?

Let me settle one point right away: my book isn’t about Beaujolais Nouveau, and not even limited to Beaujolais wines, either. The subject is the Beaujolais or, as the French say, le Beaujolais. “The” Beaujolais because it’s a wine, of course, but what many people don’t realize is that it’s also a place, a little rectangle of vineyard land roughly between the cities of Mâcon and Lyon, in central France. The old capital of this winemaking area is the town of Beaujeu, and le Beaujolais signifies both the land lying around Beaujeu and the wine that’s made there. In my book I set out to depict the land, the people, the history, the traditions and folklore as well as the wine. And Beaujolais Nouveau is only one part of all this.
What inspired me to write about it? You’re right to bring up Georges Duboeuf, because the whole thing started with him. Georges and I have been friends for more than 30 years now, and he’s really an extraordinary guy, always full of ideas.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.

We were having lunch a while back, talking about various articles I’ve done in the past on Beaujolais and French wines in general, and suddenly he said why not do a book on the Beaujolais? At first I didn’t take it all too seriously, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea, because of an essential paradox: just about everyone knows the name “Beaujolais,” but hardly anyone, even in France, really knows the place and what the people who live there are like. In all false modesty I think I can say I do, because I’ve been frequenting the Beaujolais since the sixties, and I’ve got a great affection for the land, the wine and the people who make it. Beaujolais vignerons (winemakers) are warm, good-hearted, generous, funny and sometimes even outrageous, because they love life, they love joking around and, especially, they love their wine. They badly want you to love it, too, and they give it away with a profligacy that would shock their millionaire cousins in Bordeaux or Burgundy. No way you can leave a Beaujolais winegrower’s place without a free glass or two under your belt. For them, this is just normal hospitality.