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Street art Beaujolais Nouveau revives a great business story

Is has arrived! And this time, the Beaujolais Nouveau gets a rad street art label. Move over, flowers and colorful abstractions! Wine marketing marches on!
Is has arrived! And this time, the Beaujolais Nouveau gets a rad street art label. Move over, flowers and colorful abstractions! Wine marketing marches on!
Matthew DeBord

In the wine world, the third Thursday in November is a small big deal. That's because it's when the Beaujolais Nouveau, the first French wine of the current vintage (2011 in this case), hits bars, stores, and restaurants. This is all an outgrowth of the fact that when the Beaujolais Nouveau originally appeared in France, it was an excuse to indulge in a wine-soaked harvest hootenanny.

The wine itself is nothing to write home about: it's a light, thin, fruity red, designed to be made fast and drunk even faster (Allez!). But it's become something of the Thanksgiving institution in the U.S., given that it shows up right before Turkey Day.

The King of Beaujolais, Georges Duboeuf, dispatches many thousands of colorfully labeled bottles of his now-world-renowned Beaujolais by boat and plane to the far-flung corners of the globe.

This year, it's got an aggressive graffiti label, created by Mr. Kaves. Edgy! (See photo, above.) And that's a good thing, because the Nouveau, to be honest, ain't what it used to be.

Here's the Wikipedia story of how this canny business maneuver came about:

Beaujolais had always made a vin de l'année to celebrate the end of the harvest, but until WWII it was only for local consumption. In fact, once the Beaujolais AOC was established in 1937, AOC rules meant that Beaujolais wine could only be officially sold after the 15th December in the year of harvest. These rules were relaxed on 13 November 1951, and the Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais (UIVB) formally set the 15 November as the release date for what would henceforth be known as Beaujolais Nouveau.

A few members of the UIVB, notably the négociant Georges Duboeuf, saw the potential for marketing Beaujolais Nouveau. Not only was it a way to clear lots of vin ordinaire at a good profit, but selling wine within weeks of the harvest was great for cash flow. Hence the idea was born of a race to Paris carrying the first bottles of the new vintage. This attracted a lot of media coverage, and by the 1970s had become a national event. The races spread to neighbouring countries in Europe in the 1980s, followed by North America, and in the 1990s to Asia. In 1985, the date was changed to the third Thursday in November to take best advantage of marketing in the following weekend.

The phenomenon popped on most American's radar in the mid-1980s and has persisted, despite the fact that there are now many far better wines to enjoy with the Thanksgiving feast. Plus, a healthy level of cynicism now surrounds the arrival of the wine, as the Wall Street Journal's Will Lyons explains.

Still, it's fun when the Nouveau first shows up. And due to the Kaves label, I actually noticed it myself for the first time in a decade. The Nouveau is a reminder — more so than Black Friday — that the holiday season is about to begin. In earnest!

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