Georges Duboeuf, born April 14, 1933, died January 4, 2020, at his home in the village of Romanèche-Thorins, France. He was 86 years old.
To meet Duboeuf was to meet a man with a mission. It stemmed from a passion for improving the lot of growers and vineyard owners in his beloved regions of Mâcon and Beaujolais, and it drove him throughout his life. In the process, he created a lasting legacy and brought the wines of his region to the global stage.
Duboeuf was born in Chaintré in the south of the Mâcon region. His family had been growers for four centuries.
In the 1950s, Duboeuf drove around his home region with a handmade, DIY bottling line in tow to meet with growers who were in serious financial trouble. He offered them a new, innovative option for wine production: bottling at the property, a guarantee of authenticity. He would bottle the wines of the growers and then he would sell them. Deals were sealed with a handshake. Some growers remained with him for the rest of his life.
What began in areas like Pouilly-Fuissé soon moved south into Beaujolais. In 1964, he created Les Vins Georges Duboeuf. He became a negociant and more importantly, the ambassador for Beaujolais.
In 1993, he turned an old railway station into a museum, tasting room and showplace, the “Hameau Duboeuf,” for Beaujolais wines. He was nicknamed “the Pope of Beaujolais.”
“He gave back life, color, something joyful to the wines of Beaujolais,” says Dominique Piron, a wine producer in Morgon and president of Inter Beaujolais.
Duboeuf put Beaujolais wines in top restaurants in France through his friendship with legendary chefs such as Paul Bocuse, Georges Blanc and Pierre Troisgros. He believed that proximity to great food was the passport that would enable Beaujolais to travel from its region to Paris, to Europe, to Asia and to the U.S.
His most famous initiative was the promotion of Beaujolais Nouveau. Traditionally, Beaujolais Nouveau, or young wine sold the same year it was harvested, had always been sold in the restaurants and bistros of nearby Lyon.
Duboeuf’s genius was translating that into an annual festival that would see Beaujolais Nouveau sold every November, a celebration in the dark days of winter. By the mid 1980s, it evolved into midnight releases and parties around the world celebrating the wine’s release on the third Thursday of November.
To the end of his life, Duboeuf kept his missionary zeal, renewed every harvest. Tasting with him in the tasting room at his winery in Romanèche-Thorins in northern Beaujolais was a marathon. There always had to be another bottle to try, a new product, a new estate, a “what do you think of this” query as another sample was opened and poured.
Duboeuf received the French government’s highest award, Chevalier de Légion d’Honneur, in 1999 and officer rank in 2017. He passed control of the family company to son Franck Duboeuf in April 2018, but remained an inspiring presence.
As his family said in tribute: “Beaujolais, France and the wine industry lost one of their most passionate advocates with the passing of Georges Duboeuf.”
Every lover of Beaujolais will echo that.