In one of the wine world's most extraordinary events, a finely-tuned, logistical operation lies behind the sale of Beaujolais Nouveau each year. As the region gives the green light to its giant distribution process, Stuart Todd reports on how 10,000 tonnes of wine will be airlifted to global markets.

Each year an operation of military proportions ensures that millions of bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau (BN) are flown to destinations worldwide in time for the traditional cork-popping day on the third Thursday in November.

Wine merchants, Georges Duboeuf, will have used over 90 aircraft to transport this year's BN vintage to Japan - the major destination for airborne shipments followed by the US.

"This year our flown shipments to Japan could reach 200,000 cases, up about 30% on 2001. We also expect to ship 220,000 cases to the US by air and sea. We have airfreighted BN to Africa, Australia, New Zealand too as well as to other countries in Asia, for example, Korea, which is a high growth market and to destinations such as Israel, Lebanon and Cyprus," says Duboeuf's export manager, Bernard Georges.

The global market for flown shipments of BN to Japan is likely to total 6,000 tonnes this year out of an estimated global airfreighted volume of the wine of just above 10,000 tonnes.

Lyon's St Exupery airport is a major consolidation point for shipments given its relative proximity to the Beaujolais vineyards.

"There's been steady growth in this traffic in recent years and we expect to handle between 7,500 and 8,000 tonnes of the 2002 vintage," says the airport's freight marketing officer, Eric Burdin.

The wine is stored in a temporary "marquee-type" facility covering 10,000 sq.m where shipments are prepared and palletised for transport.

Eleven "Beaujolais-dedicated" freighter flights, including five 150-tonne capacity Antonov 124s, have operated from Lyon to Japan in the past week with British Airways and FedEx among the carriers..

The vast majority of BN shipments have left Lyon by truck heading for major European airports as well as smaller all-cargo hubs from where they are shipped on long-haul flights.

Specialist wine and spirits freight forwarder, Hillebrand, said it was on course to ship approximately 1,350 tonnes of BN by air this year, a figure similar to 2001.
Around 1,100 tonnes of this volume is bound for Japan.

New destinations this year include Nicaragua, Port-au-Prince, Moldavia, Bombay and Delhi.

The Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais describes the 2002 vintage as one of quality but smaller in quantity than 2001.

"Full-bodied, brilliant and lively in colour, with glistening shades of violets," its fragrance is said to evoke dark fruits such as blackberry and prune, even liquorice spice.