At midnight tonight, the third Thursday of November, France celebrates their annual tradition…the uncorking of the new Beaujolais Nouveau wine and the beginning of “Beaujolais Nouveau Day.”

Beaujolais Nouveau (pronunciation) is a red wine made from the Gamay grapes, first planted by the Romans in the Beaujolais Province south of the Burgundy region/north of Lyon. The grapes must come only from the Beaujolais AOC, a 34-mile long region, and by law they must be picked by hand. Why? Because Beaujolais is made using the carbonic maceration wine making process or whole berry fermentation. This process preserves the fresh fruit flavors for the wine without extracting the bitter tannins from the grape skins.

The result? A light-bodied fruity easy to drink wine ready in just 6-8 weeks after harvest, best served slightly cool (about 55 degrees Fahrenheit) to bring out the fruit flavors.

Beaujolais had always made a wine to celebrate the end of harvest season, but until WWII it was only for local consumption. In 1938 (once the Beaujolais AOC was established in 1937), AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée, France’s wine classification system) rules said Beaujolais wine could only be officially sold after December 15 in the harvest year. The rules were relaxed in 1951 and the Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais (UIVB) set November 15 as the release date for Beaujolais Nouveau (later moved to the third Thursday of November to take advantage of the weekend).

A few members of the UIVB, like Georges Duboeuf, saw great marketing potential and the idea was born of a race to Paris carrying the first bottles of the new vintage. This attracted a lot of media coverage, and by the 1970s had become a national event still celebrated in Paris. Duboeuf remains the biggest producer of Beaujolais Nouveau (you’ll know their floral labels which are newly designed each year). This year the first bottles of Georges Duboeuf 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau in the U.S. will be delivered into the hands of Actress Molly Sims and Franck Duboeuf for the official uncorking on November 18 at New York City’s new District 36 club.

Cheers to the 2010 vintage and the big party over the next few days in Beaujeu, the capital of the Beaujolais region!