A few years ago, while I was still living in Philadelphia, I was invited to a tasting in New York, which was not all that unusual. Philly is but a two-hour bus ride from the country’s largest metropolis and I needed little encouragement to head up Interstate 95 to spend the day there.
But on this occasion, there was an additional enticement: the tasting was with Georges Dubœuf. Not just the wines of Georges Dubœuf, but a tasting with the Georges Dubœuf, the King of Beaujolais himself. In person. In the flesh.
Every since I started drinking wine however many years ago, I thought I “knew” Georges Dubœuf; his famous flower-labeled bottles were ubiquitous. No matter the wine shop or grocery store, the Dubœuf bottles of Beaujolais were immediately recognizable, which, of course, was intentional (a feature that many have tried to replicate with varying degrees of success).
The Dubœuf wines I had tried, for the most part, were fine. They represented good value reds from an underappreciated variety (Gamay) and whites (Chardonnay) that were far less expensive than the wines produced just a few kilometers to the north in Chassagne, Puligny, and Meursault. Even better, they were everyday kind of wines since they generally resided in the under-$20 price range.
Georges Dubœuf was almost single-handedly responsible for the success of Beaujolais Nouveau, the immensely popular vin de primeur, a wine that is released in the same year that it the fruit is harvested. While Beaujolais Nouveau has been around since the early 1950s, it did not attain its almost cult-like status until Georges Dubœuf put his marketing might behind the wine, first in France in the 1970s, and then the U.S. a decade later.
In other words, Georges Dubœuf is a pretty big deal. I had to go.
That tasting, back in 2016, turned out to be one of the best, most informative tastings I have ever attended. There, I learned that the wines of Georges Dubœuf were much more than Beaujolais Nouveau and the colorful flower bottles (more on that soon).
Georges Dubœuf is easily the largest négociant in Beaujolais, and one of the largest in France–he works with 400 growers and wine makers across the region, producing wines under numerous labels–not only the flower labels that are synonymous with the brand.
Fast-forward a few years, and I was offered to head over to France to visit again with Georges Dubœuf, this time at his home turf in Romanèche-Thorins, in the heart of Beaujolais.
I had to go.
An added benefit to the trip to visit Georges Dubœuf on his home turf? The trip started in Lyon, the gastronomical capital of France and a city that, despite all of my voyages in the country, I had never visited. (No, I do not count the time several years ago when I arrived in Lyon’s train station at 5:00 a.m. after an overnight trip from Switzerland. I had ten minutes to transfer eighteen bikes from one train. Across three platforms. To another train. To get back to Paris. No, I do not count that as a “visit” to Lyon.)
This past summer, I landed in Paris, after the typical overnight flight across the Atlantic having slept for a total of 37 (or was it 38?) seconds. I stumbled through Charles de Gaulle airport trying not to become irritated with the French–listen, I love the country and the people (for the most part), but they have the uncanny ability to always be in my way and completely oblivious to that fact, but I digress.
The train from the main Parisian airport to the Lyon Part-Dieu station takes almost exactly two hours, which for most normal people would be sufficient for a solid nap, but I guess I am not normal–I can’t seem to sleep on moving vehicles. Train, plane, automobile, you name it, I can’t sleep in/on it (the one exception seems to be a ship–but I had a bed, so I am not sure that counts).
Part of my insomnia is rooted in the fact that I am rather tall (6’4″) and most vehicles are apparently designed for people 5’3″ and under. I also have a rather intense anxiety associated with sleeping through my train stop. I am fairly certain this stems from the time many years ago when I was leading bike tours in Europe. I was waiting for another guide on a train platform in Lausanne, Switzerland as he was bringing me a client who was joining our group a few days late (long story).
Well, the train he was supposed to be on came and went, and neither he nor the client got off the train. Apparently, they had both fallen asleep and did not wake up until they were in Prague, several hours and nearly a thousand kilometers later. This meant I needed to ride my bike 60 kilometers (forty miles) from Evian, France to Martigny, Switzerland, which would normally not be a big deal, but I also had to schlep the client’s bike with me as the last train had literally already left the station. So, yeah, I get a bit worried about falling asleep and missing my stop.
I arrived in Lyon an hour late (French trains are usually pretty reliable, but let’s face it, they’re not the Swiss), and it was hotter than heck even coming from Houston (which Lucifer usually finds a tad warm), but I eventually made my way to the hotel, only getting (slightly) lost once (I have no idea how I ever got anywhere before the advent of GPS).
Since I had several hours before I was to meet with my hosts, I did what anyone would do upon arrival in Lyon–I went out to get something to eat.
After my quick lunch, I meandered a bit around Lyon, which is a fascinating city. It dates back over 2000 years, and the city was developed in waves, with architecture remaining from each epoch. Somewhat curiously, unlike most regions in France, Lyon does not have any real wine to speak of but is close to Beaujolais and Provence (each less than an hour away), with the Jura not much further. Perhaps it’s its unique location that has rendered it the gastronomical capital of the world, drawing influence from each of these regions and beyond.
I made it back to the hotel in time for a quick shower and then headed out to dinner with what would be the first few bottles of several dozen Dubœuf wines that I would taste over the course of the next four days.