Georges Duboeuf, the legendary Beaujolais winemaker and négociant who introduced the wines of his French region to millions of consumers, died of a stroke Saturday, Jan. 4, at his home in Romanèche-Thorins near Lyon, France. He was 86.
"Beaujolais, France and the wine industry lost one of their most passionate advocates with the passing of Georges Duboeuf," said Duboeuf's son Franck and his family in a statement. "During his 86 years with us, he brought much personal joy and inspiration to our lives as well as to those he touched throughout his career. We loved him and will continue to honor his legacy personally, and through the wines he nurtured and loved, for many years to come."
"Georges Duboeuf was a very special person," said Bill Deutsch, founder of Deutsch Family Wines and one of Duboeuf's American importers until recently. "He spoke only a little English and I spoke only a little French. With this minor handicap we worked closely together for 35 memorable years. Our joint efforts resulted in selling millions of cases of wine from Beaujolais, with beautiful flowers on the labels."
A masterful marketer, Duboeuf in the 1980s elevated the annual release of Beaujolais Nouveau wines, which occurs on the third Thursday of November, from a local event to a worldwide celebration. "Each Nouveau wine arrival was different but they were all memorable," said Deutsch. "I remember the year we hosted the Nouveau arrival at the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center. The cases were delivered on the platform outside the building used by the window washers, carefully raised up to Windows on the World on the 102nd floor, where wine director Kevin Zraly and Georges opened the first bottle."
His other Beaujolais wines, many with vibrant floral labels designed by Duboeuf himself, introduced many Americans, Japanese and others to the region and its Gamay wines. U.S. imports of Duboeuf wines peaked at 1 million cases a decade ago. While sales declined as the Nouveau phenomenon faded, today annual imports remain steady at around 200,000 cases.
Duboeuf was born in 1933 into a winegrowing family in the village of Chaintré. The family's 15 acres of vines provided a poor living. Like most growers in the region at the time, the Duboeufs sold their production in bulk to merchants. His father died when Georges was only 3 years old, and the family struggled. At age 16, Georges quit school in order to work on the farm.
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When Duboeuf turned 18, he decided to sell his wine himself. He put a couple of bottles in a backpack and rode his bike to area restaurants. At Au Chapon Fin in the village of Thoissey, chef Paul Blanc tasted the wine, agreed to buy it and asked Duboeuf to find more wines. Soon Georges was a négociant, selling neighbors' wines to restaurants throughout the region. He distinguished himself from most other merchants, personally choosing his wines and bottling them himself. He earned a reputation for a discerning palate, and he helped growers raise farming and winemaking standards across the region. (Read Wine Spectator's 2000 profile of Duboeuf.)
Today, Duboeuf's network in the Beaujolais region is vast, consisting of over 300 growers. The company's portfolio includes négociant and estate wines from all 10 of Beaujolais' crus as well as cuvées from beyond Beaujolais in regions like Burgundy's Maconnais and Languedoc's Pays d'Oc. The company produces about 2.5 million cases annually.
Duboeuf officially retired in 2016. He was succeeded by his son Franck, who now works with the family's third generation, represented by Georges' grandson, Adrien.