This story of the man who brought Beaujolais to the world’s tables carries distinctive flavors of French history, cuisine and terrain with accents of style and wit.
To write of the Beaujolais and of French wine is to write of all France, its people, their history, their food, their work habits, says Chelminski (The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine, 2005). Viewing winemaker/wine merchant Georges Duboeuf from that panoramic perspective, Chelminski presents a volume that’s as much food and travel guide as it is biography. The author begins by reaching back to the early 17th century when Philip the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, banned the gamay grape lest it upstage the beloved wine of his region. Peasants to the south, in Macon, nurtured the unloved gamay, which took to its soil and eventually blossomed as the source of Beaujolais, the wine that brightens November. Its peasant origins set the wine on the second shelf until Duboeuf came onto the scene in the 1950s. Duboeuf took the wines his family and others made and, bypassing dealers, sold directly to restaurants. With boosts from palate-sated journalists and the arrival of nouvelle cuisine, which the fruity Beaujolais complemented, the wine took Paris—and soon the world. (A chapter on British buyers racing to be the first home with the Beaujolais could make a very funny film.) By Chelminki’s richly detailed account, Duboeuf’s is an uncomplicated life of hard work rewarded by success. Had Chelminski, who has known Duboeuf for 30 years, considered the latter’s occasional setbacks (e.g. a failed attempt in the ’80s to expand operations to California’s Napa Valley), it would have added a note of tension to balance the narrative.
A sophisticated raconteur, Chelminski tells a story that would grace a leisurely lunch at a French countryside inn.