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Giving thanks for Beaujolais

Georges DuboeufUnless you encountered a little gridlock in a wine shop on Nov. 15, you may never know about the secret that millions of wine enthusiasts worldwide share on the third Thursday of November every year.

It’s the release of French Beaujolais Nouveau.

What makes this part of fall special is the chance to purchase a dry wine mellow enough to be enjoyed in the same autumn it is made. Think about it: a red wine, only a few weeks old, ready to drink.

Ah, that’s just the start.

The “unusual” cherry soda-type flavors come from grapes that are not crushed before being fermented. But such wines are in fact the most “traditional” of all: before humans devised equipment to mechanically crush grapes, these are the only wines we knew! A mass of grapes dumped whole into a vat slowly crushes the berries, liberating enough juice to start a spontaneous fermentation.

Writings on the cave wall tell the rest: eventually humans figured out they could use feet to make more juice, hence the first harvest parties, associated in Greek mythology with the cult of Dionysus.

Big Beaujolais firms ferment Gamay grapes, then mechanically crush them. Two months later, it’s filtered, bottled and shipped around the world.

But the “whole-berry” fermentation makes remarkably similar flavors, no matter the grape variety. I dump my Frontenac grapes into a 325-gallon horizontal tank and let them ferment a few days. Then — like some artisan producers in Beaujolais still do — I hop in, roughly waist-deep, and tread the grapes for a couple of hours. However it’s crushed, the mass is mechanically pressed to release the fermented wine.

Ancient celebrations would have begun as new wine flowed. Crude music from stretched animal hides and fluted sticks or dried gourds filled the night. Around a blazing fire, humans mingled.

At my winery, sometimes someone else happens along. Sometimes, it’s just me — a small businessman alone with my thoughts, music blaring, grapes and stems scrunching between my toes.

Small Biz Buzz Best Buys — The most often-seen Beaujolais Nouveau is from Georges Duboeuf. These are usually rather bland and a little sweet. But some very interesting takes on the tradition have crossed the Atlantic in recent years. Try 2012 Manoir du Carra or 2012 Domaine Decroix (both around $11). Slightly chilled, they’re jumping with bright cherry flavors and a satisfying fullness in the mouth. Don’t overthink it: pair with simply prepared foods and, most of all, friends and loved ones.