A sommelier pours a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau to open air wine spa at the Hakone Kowakien Yunessun on November 15, 2007 in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. The spa complex launched open air wine spa 2 years ago and the event is taken place every year.

Mari Yasuda explains here the history of Japan's love affair with Beaujolais Nouveau, a light and fruity red wine that so intently captivated the Asian country.

Beaujolais Nouveau will be released on November 19 this year, the third Thursday of November as regulated. Japan is the number one export market for Beaujolais Nouveau. In 2019, around five million bottles were exported to Japan, which is roughly 50% of the total exported volume. As this figure shows, the Japanese love Beaujolais Nouveau.

It was in 1985 that the release date of Beaujolais Nouveau was changed to the third Thursday of November. Before that, it had been fixed on  November 15. However, if November 15 fell on a weekend, the distribution network would stop; therefore, the release date was fixed on the third Thursday of November. At that time, Japan was at the dawn of the economic boom known as the “bubble boom”. The festive mood of the Nouveau and a rising economy pushed up the sales of Beaujolais Nouveau. 

Georges Duboeuf’s wines have arrived in Japan for this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau celebration.

Following the collapse of the bubble boom in 1991, the sales of Beaujolais Nouveau in Japan calmed down. However, its sales picked up again with the red wine boom from 1997 onwards. In 2004, the imported volume of Beaujolais Nouveau hit the highest record with 1.04 million cases(9 litre/case). After that, the sales of Beaujolais Nouveau followed a downtrend except for certain periods.

One reason is that Beaujolais Nouveau had become a common wine due to the expansion of wine consumption among Japanese consumers. Formerly, consumers tend to stock up on Beaujolais Nouveau wines at a time, but this trend changed gradually. Nowadays, consumers  tend to buy only one or two bottles because there are many other wines available in the market.

Why do the Japanese love Beaujolais Nouveau so much? There are various reasons. Generally, the Japanese like the first crop of the season which is called “Hatsu Mono” such as “Hatsu Gatsuo (bonito)”. Hatsu means “the first”  and “Mono” means “a thing” in Japanese.  This is because it is traditionally said that one who eats “Hatsu Mono” can take a new lease of life and have good luck. In addition to it, the Japanese can enjoy Beaujolais Nouveau eight hours earlier than in France due to the time difference. This adds a further excitement to the enjoyment of Beaujolais Nouveau in Japan. Another reason is the taste of the wine, which is light and fruity, and it fits the palate of the Japanese.

Various events have been carried out to celebrate the release of Beaujolais Nouveau at midnight on the third Thursday of November. Suntory Wine International Ltd (Suntory), the importer of Georges Duboeuf’s wines – the largest sales volume of Beaujolais Nouveau in Japan –  has been organizing  events every year  to celebrate the release of Beaujolais Nouveau previously with the late Mr. Georges Duboeuf. A mega supermarket Aeon has organized various countdown events for the Nouveau. The most surprising event may be “bathing” in Beaujolais Nouveau at Yunessun, a famous hot-spring in Hakone.

This year, the import volume of Beaujolais Nouveau is estimated to decrease from that of previous years due to on-trade consumption declines at restaurants and bars in the age Covid-19. As a result, this will also be the eighth consecutive year of a downtrend. Shuhan news estimates the decrease in the import volume of Beaujolais Nouveau will be around 20% this year. 

Due to the significant reduction in the number of  international flights, producers and negociants of Beaujolais decided to accelerate the date of shipment of Beaujolais Nouveau to export markets this year from the usual October 31 to October 12 in order to ensure the arrival of the wines to the markets before the release date. The first cargo of  Georges Duboeuf ‘s Beaujolais Nouveau arrived at Haneda airport in Tokyo on October 22. 

According to Suntory, usual celebration events on the release day will not be held due to Covid-19. Instead online celebration events are planned upon release for three days. 

May “Hatsu Mono” bring good luck to the world !

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