Back in November 1970, a wine writer and a MP sat at dinner at the Hotel Maritonnes in Romanèche Thorins, in the heart of the wine region of Burgundy, France. Over the course of the evening and a number of bottles of local wine, a plan was hatched to race each other back to UK.
The winner of the race would be the first man to deliver a case of the 1970 Beaujolais Nouveau – released that week – back to London. The idea for the ‘Beaujolais run’ was born, and through the 70s & 80s, word spread and this personal challenge evolved into a distinctly amateur ‘wacky races’ event. Notably absent in the early days was any form of official organisation.
Over the years, methods of delivering the newly-released wine overseas became more and more outrageous, as the spirit and excitement of the ‘Beaujolais run’ spread. Beaujolais Nouveau was flown to New York by Concorde, and not to be out-done, the Royal Air Force smashed all previous speed records between Burgundy and the UK in a Harrier Jump Jet.
Nowadays the race element has been diminished, following a clampdown on racing on public roads by the French authorities in the mid-eighties. However the annual tradition continues to this day as a charity event, and drivers will be on the road today heading south to collect the first bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau 2012.
‘Beaujolais run’ travel essentials
Map of the route
For the charity event, the route varies each year with a different navigational challenge, though the principle remains the same – across the Channel to the heart of Burgundy and back with a case. Something like this:
View The Beaujolais Run in a larger map
In recent times, the event has celebrated a different model or brand of classic car each year. However, the fund-raising entrants may drive whatever they please. The start line will see vintage models lining up alongside modern supercars.
The route invariably involves a mid-route stop, likely either in Reims, the heart of the Champagne region, or Paris. With the “travelling house party” atmosphere of ‘the run’, it’s likely convivial enthusiasm may lead to a touch of over indulgence before the journey continues the following morning!
(Car) Keys, Phone, Wallet
Don’t forgot the essentials. With around 500 miles of driving each way south of Calais that’s a few tanks of fuel to burn, so best pack some plastic. And of course, a few cases of wine will be bought to make the trip worthwhile (if you take cash you’d need a pick-up truck, not a supercar to carry it, and speed is of the essence!) Keep it simple and pay with plastic. As Rowan Atkinson learned in the classic 80′s Barclaycard adverts – back in the heyday of the ‘Beaujolais run’ – the wise man always travels with a credit card.
Its a pretty straight forward route, but if on the way down you are sidetracked by a moment of vinerific whimsy, you will of course have downloaded our handy map to your smartphone to get you back on the right road. You could of course make an emergency call to your Beaujolais Run buddy for assistance, but being a race they might just revel in the chance to extend their lead.
You’ve survived, arrived and bought the wine. Now what’s next…
Beaujolais Nouveau: what’s all the fuss about?
What has become a uniquely British event – classic cars scrambling across the Channel, through the French countryside and back to Blightly – has its roots in some rather shrewd marketing by French wine producers. The timing of the ‘Beaujolais run’ revolves around ‘Beaujolais Nouveau Day’, a date decreed since the 1950s, and formalised in 1985 as the third Thursday of November. Beaujolais Day was set to celebrate the first ‘nouveau’ wines of that year’s harvest that could be legally take the Beaujolais name under the strict naming rules that protect the identity of French wines.
With a date set in the calendar, growers saw the opportunity to build excitement around the release of the first of the year’s wine. From the 1950s onwards, local village festivities and races to Paris began, which in turn must have inspired the pair of British diners who set off in their cars in 1970. The message has since been celebrated worldwide, though bathing in the stuff – as here in Japan in 1998 – is probably taking things a little too far:
The spirit of Beaujolais Day and the ‘Beaujolais run’ is firmly one of fun and a celebration of a local wine, which in turn has given us a quirky modern tradition. Beaujolais Nouveau is not a fine wine to be savoured, being only weeks old and unsophisticated in flavour – hence it being served chilled! However, there is a modicum of interest for the serious wine enthusiast, with the young wine giving a hint of the qualities of that year’s bottled harvest, which could in turn be a future vintage.
That said, serious wine connoisseurs need not apply – the ‘Beaujolais run’ has always been more for the pleasure-seeker with a strong spirit of adventure!