In 1964, well-known Beaujolais vintner Georges Duboeuf founded Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, a negotiant business devoted to selecting, bottling, and selling Beaujolais and Burgundy wines worldwide. Duboeuf has since become a symbol of and ambassador for the region. In 1993, Georges Duboeuf opened the first theme park dedicated to viticulture and wine, Le Hameau du Vin (translated as The Hamlet of Wine), which explores vine cultivation and history over the last 2,000 years. The park receives more than 100,000 visitors every year. Georges was instrumental in the promotion of Beaujolais Nouveau globally by hosting an annual Nouveau celebration at his home (until the party grew to over 800 people), and then continuing the celebration in New York and Japan. Georges and his son, Franck, manage Vins Georges Duboeuf which now produces more than two million cases of Beaujolais wine a year.
Karen MacNeil & Co. interviewed Georges Duboeuf with translation help from his son Franck Duboeuf in June 2019 at his home in Beaujolais.
Karen MacNeil: What is it about wine that you find moving?
Georges Duboeuf: There are many emotions but they are mostly dominated by patience. The patience to cherish the vine, from birth, to taking care of it during winemaking, to bottling it. Wine follows an evolution, and like life, it’s important to always be patient. Also, the world of wine is a big family.
KM: How did you first begin in the wine industry?
GD: My family has been in the winegrowing and winemaking for over 400 years. One day in 1955, while I was away for military service, I learned from my brother that Monsieur de Wilde from Alexis Lichine’s company came to our home to ask my brother if they could buy 600 bottles of Poully-Fuissé wine from us. My brother told them that we did not have enough wine to sell them. My cousins had some wine in 215-liter barrels in their cellar that I thought we could sell them. So the following year, when I came back from the 24 month’s service, I got in touch with de Wilde and that is when we started work with him and Alexis Lichine. I sent them samples of Poully-Fuissé and they decided to order 600 bottles. I had created a mobile bottling line prior to the military service, so I was able to bottle these wines and deliver it to de Wilde and Alexis Lichine in Bordeaux. They were the first two extraordinary people I began to work with in wine.
I also understood at the very beginning that it wouldn’t be possible for me to market the region’s wines alone, so I decided to create an association of producers. Écrin Mâconnais-Beaujolais, the “jewelry case” of Mâconnais and Beaujolais, working closely with growers.
KM: What was your greatest challenge when you were first starting in the industry?
GD: There were many challenges, but I believe every challenge can be overcome. The first was financial. I knew I needed help from people, so I was active in meeting people, listened to recommendations from others, and grew little by little. Frank Schoonmaker and Alexis Lichine were instrumental to me.
KM: What is it about Beaujolais region that sets it apart from other wine regions in France?
GD: Beaujolais has the power to embellish everything. It is an endless source of inspiration and passion with a thousand reasons to be loved.
KM: Many consumers associate you with Beaujolais Nouveau. Yet in recent years Beaujolais Nouveau has also been criticized as being more about marketing than about wine. What is your reaction?
GD: In terms of how it is made, Beaujolais Nouveau requires talented growers and suppliers of good wines from good origins. Sometimes, it is harder to produce a good Beaujolais Nouveau than a regular Beaujolais since the time to produce the wine is very limited.
The quality of Beaujolais Nouveau today is better than it used to be. There is more equipment used today and the equipment is better. There is also more experience in the vinification of Beaujolais Nouveau, and there is a new generation of experts. The growers are producing better quality wines today for the consumers.
KM: The Georges Duboeuf labels have often been wildly colorful with lots of flowers. When did you create such labels and what was the thinking behind them?
GD: It was in the late 70’s, from a very simple bouquet of flowers. I wanted to express nature and simplicity. I love flowers. Just like wine, flowers all have different aromas, it’s pretty, and it’s universal—it does not need translation.
“Sometimes, it is harder to produce a good Beaujolais Nouveau than a regular Beaujolais...”
KM: When you think about your own success, what character trait do you possess that’s been the most helpful?
GD: Passion is number one. Then there is pleasure, discovery, and hard work. Wine stories, the life, time, and always back to the evolution of wine. I am always an apprentice/student when it comes to wine.
KM: How would you describe the wines that you make?
GD: Our job would be easy if all growers produced the same wine. Our first task is, during the 3 months that follow the harvest, to taste hundreds of vats and retain only the best. I mean the more balanced, aromatic, typical, and those wines wit personality.
KM: What characteristics should all great Beaujolais possess?
GD: Balance. Balance is what matters the most. It’s not easy to find balance—winemaking has a lot to do with finding balance in wine. If you rush too much, you can miss the balance. The ‘know how’ and the talent of the winemaker is very important to find balance in the wine. Some vintners have good vineyards, but they don’t bring the finesse and elegance into the wine, so even though they have good material, it does not show up in the wine. Wine needs a lot of attention.
KM: You opened a park dedicated to wines and vines, Le Hameau du Vin, in 1993. How did this idea come about?
GD: I wished to share my passion with others, put the visitors in front and behind the scenes of a little-known show, the one of vine and wine.
KM: Besides Beaujolais, what other wine region inspires you the most and why?
GD: All the regions everywhere. Some examples include Burgundy and The Rhône Valley. Much of my inspiration comes from traveling and discovery, like when I discovered Napa Valley about 60 years ago. The inspiration is a combination of discovery and close and long-term relationships with wine families.
KM: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
GD: Depends on what kind of achievement. Success is a combination of many things. Family, the people you work with, and the professional relationships that you have. We don’t just buy wine, we buy wine from people we know and work with, and we get to know them and their families over the years. We visit them very often. In the lab, we have full-time analysts who analyze the wines. Those technicians are sent to the vintners and have to gain their trust and work in partnership with them. It’s a teamwork. Our previous winemaker worked with me for 52 years before retirement.