The Business of Beaujolais
There's a good chance that along with your turkey, sweet potatoes, and thinly-veiled familial discontent, there was a nice bottle of Beaujolais at your Thanksgiving table.
Brilliantly marketed in the U.S. as a holiday wine since the mid-80s, the fruity red is a prime example of how a great campaign can become bigger than its product. Though the "Nouveau Beaujolais" - the release of the first press of the wine on the third Thursday in November - was already a successful concept in France, it wasn't until William J. Deutch of W.J. Deutch & Sons teamed up with wine producer Georges Duboeuf to come up with a way to make it an event for American drinkers.
"We needed to create some kind of hype so that the consumer would know it was here," says Deutch, who came up with a different campaign every year - from having marathoner Joan Benoit run through the streets of Manhattan with a bottle of Beaujolais in 1984 to orchestrating a "Nouveau Cirque" event featuring actress Molly Sims and a gaggle of trapeze artists to celebrate the 2010 vintage.
Wine expert and Thirsty Girl founder Leslie Hartley-Sbrocco characterizes the Nouveau as tasting "like a freshly crushed grape, like Kool-Aid for adults," but adds that there are "serious" versions as well, such as the Beaujolais cru. Others haven't been as kind: Slate columnist Mike Steinberger once described it as "a wine barely removed from the fermentation vat...pleasantly tart barroom swill."
Still, there's no question that the hype works: According to Deutch, Beaujolais enjoys a sales spike every holiday season and went from 56 cases shipped in 1982 to 160,000 cases this year.
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