Massachusetts Beverage Business


A Visit With Frank Duboeuf

Article By: Harvey Finkel, MD

We've all heard of the terrible, torrid summer of 2003 in Europe. It was not wholly a bad thing, for some good wine will come out of it.


Franck Duboeuf, son of Georges, the highly successful and respected Beaujolais negociant, visited recently, and I was able to taste a representative sample of the vast array of Duboeuf wines and to become au courant of Duboeuf doings and the news from Beaujolais. Franck has worked closely with his father for 20 years, and holds a responsible position (Directeur General) at Les Vins de Georges Duboeuf.

Franck's wife, Anne, also part of a wine-producing family and trained in agronomy, accompanied him. She and Franck met at Le Hameau du Vin ("The Hamlet of Wine") in Romaneche-Thorins in Beaujolais, which she supervises and Duboeuf sponsors. (It is strongly suspected that their respective fathers had this happy match in mind from the start.) Le Hameau complex contains a comprehensive wine museum, even a vineyard, Clos de la Gare. It traces the history of wine from ancient times and the course from vineyard to bottle, including packaging and wine posters, all in entertaining fashion, topped off by a tasting.

The company has come a long way in 40 years, from Georges, scion of Pouilly-Fuisse growers, alone on a bicycle selling wine in his Beaujolais/Macon neighborhood, to purveyor of 3.5 million cases of scores of wines, 65 percent from Beaujolais, the rest from other southerly regions (for example, Macon, Ardeche, Cotes du Rhone, Pays d'Oc). Worldwide exports account for a significant portion of the production. (Exact figures are not released.) Duboeuf has close and stabile relationships with many talented growers, advising and supervising viticulture and winemaking. About ten percent of the wines are vinified at the new Duboeuf winery in Romaneche-Thorins. Beaujolais produces an annual average of 15 million cases from 53,000 vineyard acres: 24,000 of Beaujolais (including Beaujolas Nouveau), 14,000 Beaujolais-Villages, 15,000 Crus. The terraine, largely volcanic, is quite hilly. The soil varies, much of it sandy clay over granite. The grape is gamay, properly and specifically gamay noir a jus blanc. All grapes must be handpicked. Vinification begins within unbroken skins in whole bunches without crushing or pressing. This process of carbonic maceration preserves floral and fruity aromas and flavors so we can enjoy this fresh, eminently drinkable wine.

To improve quality, the Duboeuf growers limit grape yields, practicing "green harvesting" by trimming vines, buds, blossoms and bunches. Grape bunches are selected, and, during each vintage, up to 10,000 samples are tasted, analyzed, and referenced, of which only a few hundred batches may be kept. That's about 400 samples being processed per day.

In Beaujolais, Duboeuf selects wines from all three appellation levels - Beaujolais (including the Nouveau), Beaujolais-Villages, and the ten Crus du Beaujolais. Wines may have the familiar and attractive negociant's flower label or a specific domaine label. The new Cuvee Prestige line, right now composed of four wines from Beaujolais (Morgon, Fleurie, Brouilly, and Moulin-a-Vent), a Pouilly-Fuisse, and three from the Pays d'Oc, is the equivalent of reserve quality, and crosses other categories. They are the strict selections from low yields of top vineyards.

The news from Beaujolais revolves around heat, the often triple-digit temperatures of Europe's most recent summer. The dry, unrelenting heat has made wine production a perilous adventure this year, but possibly a rewarding one.

The spring frosts and hailstorms ensured a small crop, down more than 30 percent. The short, hot, rainless growing season (85 instead of the normal 100 days) delivered small, concentrated, thick-skinned berries without much juice. High sugars and rapidly dropping acid concentrations dictated the earliest harvest in Beaujolais since the fabled 1893. The grapes were not otherwise perfectly mature: polyphenols, for example, had not yet fully developed. Picking on August 11 to 13 was at least two weeks earlier than usual. Pickers and winemakers had to be retrieved from their vacations. Chaptalization was not needed. Fermentation was unusually rapid. In the days before cooling was available, it would have been a general disaster. As it is, selectivity, great care and skill, and luck are required. Some great wines are likely to have been made - one must choose carefully.

Most of the wines tasted were of the 2002 vintage, which was generally very good in Beaujolais and environs. Careful selection eliminated grapes affected by Botrytis. Harvest was at the normal time, starting at the end of August. The grapes of 2001 did not attain the same uniform maturity.

CHARDONNAY 2001, PAYS d'OC, SELECTION de GEORGES DUBOEUF Surprisingly crisp and fragrant for a southern wine.

POUILLY-FUISSE 2002, DOMAINE BERANGER Creamy, with good acid balance.

BROUILLY 2002, DOMAINE de COMBILLATY Fragrant, ripe, good substance and structure.

MORGON 2002 (flower label) Lively and long. Fine fruit.

MORGON 2002, DOMAINE JEAN DESCOMBES Fine nose. Complex, intense, long. Juicy.

Both Morgons grow with airing.

MOULIN-a-VENT 2002, DOMAINE TOUR du BIEF New oak 45%, and it shows but doesn't obscure. Cherries and maybe chocolate in nose. Needs time.

BROUILLY 2001, CUVEE PRESTIGE A little new oak used, though, glad to say, not obvious. A substantial wine, flavorful and long.

One concludes that these moderately priced bottles are serious and satisfying wines, not just fluff to toss down with a sandwich.

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