The Loss of an Icon

As I have mentioned a few times in this space, the wine world lost one of its few remaining icons last month when Georges Dubœuf passed away as the result of a stroke on January 4th, 2020.

While his impact on winemaking, particularly in Beaujolais, was extraordinary, his early life could have been that of just about anyone growing up in France at the time. Goerges was born in 1933 in the small town of Crêches-sur-Saône, near Chaintré, one of the five villages that comprise the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation.

Georges’ family had been making wine for several generations from their few acres of Chardonnay when his father passed away in 1935; Georges was but two years old. Georges’ uncle took over the family business and was eventually joined by Georges’ older brother Roger, who was thirteen years Georges’ senior.

As a youth, Georges, like many born into a winemaking family, resisted becoming involved in the family business. Instead, he pursued various sports and became particularly adept at cycling. For a time, after the dream of being a professional athlete faded, he imagined he would become a physical education teacher. That vision would also fade, and he gradually became more involved in the family trade.

Last summer, I tasted the latest releases aside M. Dubœuf in the basement of his home in Romanèche-Thorins.

Roger, who had become Georges’ mentor, was a fine winemaker with fastidious attention to detail, which Georges would also adopt. But Roger did not possess Georges’ outgoing and friendly demeanor and he was content to sell the family’s wines in bulk to other vintners who would then either bottle it or sell it to restaurants in barrel.

Georges had much grander ideas, however.

As early as 15 years-old, Georges was telling his then 28-year-old brother that they should start bottling their wine to sell directly to restaurants and the public. Just a couple of years later Georges acquired bottling equipment and opened the first tasting room in the Mâconnais-Beaujolais region. By 18, he was loading up his bicycle with bottles of his family’s wine and crisscrossing the region, looking to sell the wine to local restaurants.

Many restaurants were mpressed by his Pouilly-Fuissé (Chardonnay), but they also needed red wines of equal quality and thus Georges started traveling to nearby Beaujolais to find red wines to sell to his accounts.

Eventually, he encountered Alexis Lichine, the Russian-born American importer in Bordeaux (who had also purchased two well-known Bordeaux estates), who wanted to buy not only Georges Dubœuf’s Pouilly-Fuissé but also red wines from Beaujolais. But there was a catch: the wines had to all be bottled at the estate or château, enabling them to be labeled as such.

At the time, however, there were very few growers who had bottling capabilities on the premises and given the relative cost, virtually none of them had any interest in acquiring the equipment. Undeterred, the entrepreneurial Dubœuf sold the rights to a bottle that he had designed (le pot Beaujolais) and purchased a used Renault truck that had previously been used as a mobile X-Ray center.

The original prototype for the “Pot Beaujolais” as designed by Georges Dubœuf.

He rehabbed the truck and outfitted it with all the necessary bottling equipment thus creating the world’s first mobile-bottling unit. He would then drive the truck to winegrowers that he had already selected based on quality, bottle the wine on-site, and then send it off to Bordeaux as “Estate Bottled Beaujolais” to Alexis Lichine, the start of what would become Dubœuf’s wine empire.

Today, Les Vins Georges Dubœuf works with over 400 growers in Beaujolais and helps bottle and market over 80 different Domaines et Châteaux. Last summer, after spending some time with M. Dubœuf, I visited several producers. The first was the Château de Saint-Amour, one of the two (along with Juliénas) northernmost crus in Beaujolais.

The Siraudin family has owned the Château for several decades and has been working with Georges Dubœuf the entire time. In fact, Monsieur Siraudin actually started working with M. Dubœuf as a broker back in 1970 and only retired a couple of years ago on his 90th birthday. As with all of their relationships, Les Vins Georges Dubœuf provides technical assistance to the vigneron (the French word for “winemaker” but also encompasses vineyard manager) as well as marketing and distribution for the wines once bottled.

Following the tasting we had lunch with Monsieur et Madame Siraudin. I am not sure what is going on with my expression.

As is fairly still common in Beaujolais (but rarer in other regions), the Siraudins employ the system of métayage, which dates from before the French Revolution (1789). Basically, the Siraudins both provide lodging for and lease the vineyard to the vigneron who manages the vineyard and makes the wine. The production is split 50-50 between the family and the vigneron. In this case, roughly 90% is sold to Les Vins Georges Dubœuf and bottled on the property, with the remaining 10% sold by the vigneron (Thierry Jénas) under a different label.

We tasted the wines in the cellar of the Château, which was built in 1788, just before the revolution (1789).

The Châteu consists of 18-20 hectares (40-45 acres) total, which is almost a single block, of very old vines, most of which are at least 50 years old.

All Crus in Beaujolais can’t be released until March 15, except Saint-Amour where can be released on the first of February so it can be ready for Valentine’s Day.

2018 Château de Saint-Amour, Beaujolais, France: Retail $25. 100% Gamay. One of the best years in Beaujolais, perhaps the best. Red fruit dominates. Quite fruity with a touch of heat (14% which is a bit high for Saint-Amour). Darker than most Saint Amours. Still a bit young, tight and tense, this certainly needs time as the quite evident tannins need to mellow a bit. Still, yowza. Excellent. 90-92 Points. 

2017 Château de Saint-Amour, Beaujolais, France: Retail $25. 100% Gamay. Luscious red and dark fruit. Authentic Beaujolais year–more typical with reserved fruit and balance. Really fresh and fruity. Fantastic. Excellent. 91-93 Points.

2016 Château de Saint-Amour, Beaujolais, France: Retail $25. 100% Gamay. Initially a bit funky, but that eventually blew off revealing a fruit-driven wine with wonderful balance and nearly integrated tannins. Lovely. Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.

 

 

 

About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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