A view from Dave Trott: A man with a vin
A view from Dave Trott

A man with a vin

When I was a junior copywriter, I was in Soho having a meeting on a script.

The director suddenly said, "Look, it’s nearly lunchtime, the Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived, let’s go."

I didn’t know what they were talking about, but I went along.

We went to a restaurant which had a large chalkboard with "LE BEAUJOLAIS NOUVEAU EST ARRIVÉ" outside.

They uncorked the bottles, poured large glasses, and everyone sipped and delivered their verdict.

Everyone wanted to show they were sophisticated, so they had to be among the first to taste the new crop.

That was how the advertising business was in those days: film production companies, photographers, ad agencies, all had to prove how sophisticated they were.

Knowledge of wine was how you proved your sophistication.

So they competed to be the first to taste it every year.

Restaurants competed with each other to advertise that they were the first with that year’s Beaujolais Nouveau.

It was a race to be the first, it was obviously a tradition going back hundreds of years.

Except it wasn’t.

It had been invented just a few years earlier by George Duboeuf, to promote the wines of a very ordinary winemaking region.

Beaujolais wasn’t a grand region like Burgundy or Bordeaux, so they needed to stimulate interest in their produce.

So every year when the wines were released, Duboeuf publicised races to be the first to deliver the new batch.

He had people racing in sports cars with crates, to beat the trains and lorries delivering it.

Or going over mountains by elephant, in hot air balloons, across the Atlantic on Concorde.

He enlisted film stars, sporting heroes and celebrity chefs, anyone the papers would print a photo of (and of course they’d be trying the nouvelle Beaujolais).

Of course, as soon as one restaurant advertised it, competing restaurants couldn’t be left out, they had to keep up.

Which meant anyone who wanted to be considered sophisticated had to try it straight away, to show they had a credible opinion on wine.

And so Duboeuf created the FOMO phenomenon with wine.

He began to blend and bottle the wines of Beaujolais under his own label, and he became a spokesman for the entire region.

In 1964, when he began the fashion, Beaujolais was just an everyday wine.

By 2017, Vins George Duboeuf was selling 30 million bottles a year to 120 countries.

Before Duboeuf popularised the race to taste the Nouvelle Beaujolais, it was considered an ordinary wine, nothing special.

Duboeuf was always honest about it, he said: "We are not so pretentious to think we produce the same as a grand Bordeaux or Burgundy, but we try to do the best we can in the spirit and culture of our wines."

Frank J Prial, The New York Times wine columnist, put it more simply: "As a wine it’s so-so; as a marketing gimmick it’s one of the great triumphs of our time."

Nowadays we would call it the scarcity heuristic: people always want what they can’t have.

So what Deboeuf did was create scarcity, or at least a perception of it.

He couldn’t sell great vintage years, so he sold Nouvelle Beaujolais: this year’s wine.

He just sold it in a way that made this year’s wine seem scarce.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three