Georges Duboeuf, who was seminal in building the international trade in Beaujolais wines over the past 65 years, passed away in January. He was 86 years old. His son, Franck, has worked with him since the mid-1980s, starting out in charge of production and becoming CEO of Les Vins Georges Duboeuf in 2018. Today, the company produces 600,000 cases of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages wines, and bottles 290,000 cases of cru wines. Among these, about 50,000 are from individual properties, which Les Vins Georges Duboeuf sells under the domaine or château label. Several of these wines were among the top-scoring Beaujolais in our recent tasting of 2018s. I spoke with Franck Duboeuf about how his father developed these relationships with growers, and about his remembrances of their work together.
In 1955, my father became a courtier [broker] and, at the same time, met a famous chef, Paul Blanc. So, he started to sell Pouilly-Fuissé to [Le Chapon Fin, in Thoissey, just outside the town of Mâcon]. And the chef asked him to select a red Beaujolais as good as the Pouilly-Fuissé. He found it in Leynes. I think this was Beaujolais 1955 and I think this was the first wine my father bought. In 1956, he created L’Écrin Mâconnais-Beaujolais (l’écrin means “jewel case”). It was a gathering of 45 growers; among them were Mr. Savoye, the father-in-law of Nicole Descombes [the daughter of Jean-Ernest Descombes, whose wine Les Vins Georges Duboeuf continues to sell today]. So, thanks to his visits to growers, my father was able to create very close relationships.
He started a new business, selling their estate-bottled wines. It was a kind of revolution at the time, this kind of co-op, with growers starting to sell their own wines under their own names. After a few years, in 1964, my father created his own négociant company. Thanks to his experience as a grower, as a courtier, [as] a bottler to order, the growers trusted him. He knew the importance of storage conditions, of bottling in proper, clean conditions, using stainless steel—all things that were very new at the time. He went often to the oenology station in Mâcon; all this experience convinced him to have his own laboratory next to his office.
After L’Écrin, he continued to work with a few of the growers, bottling their wines at the estate and selling them under the Duboeuf label. Today, we carry about 80 domaine and château wines from Beaujolais and Mâcon. In Moulin-à-Vent, we work with Domaine des Rosiers, Gerard Chavy; my father started working with [Chavy’s] father when the property was called Domaine La Rochelle. In many cases we are now working with the second or the third generation.
And, in most cases, we don’t have contracts with them. We don’t need to. We have a very close relationship with them and they know better how to take care of their vineyard and to vinify. My father spent a lot of time visiting and tasting the wines at the properties to find new growers, but also to understand each appellation and terroir.
When I was young, I used to go with him during the weekend. We had visits to five or six different domains; it was a full day. Once, I asked him, “Dad, why are you spending so much time discussing to buy the wines?” He told me it’s a very important time for the grower. It sealed one year of hard work—a kind of celebration, a kind of special moment. It’s important for them to discuss with the whole family and take the time to explain the situation. Growing vineyards in Beaujolais is hard work and you are alone in the vineyard a lot.
My dad, every day, I think of him and the incredible memories we shared. My father was a self-taught man, and he would give me congratulations or thanks on very rare occasions. But his trust was the best recognition. He was not a kind of person to give you advice or to give you direction, but he always had a very benevolent look. He believed in doing, and he gave me so much. He knew to be surrounded by good people, so I have a good team today. In fact, it’s quite a new team, because some of our team has retired, and some will retire soon. So, now a new team is coming. I say a new team…well, some are working with us for ten years or more…