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A Grieving France Celebrates A Subdued Beaujolais Nouveau Day

A man walks past a bar advertising Beaujolais Nouveau Day in Paris. Many bars and restaurants were sparsely crowded on a day that normally is a time to celebrate.
Jacques Brinon
A man walks past a bar advertising Beaujolais Nouveau Day in Paris. Many bars and restaurants were sparsely crowded on a day that normally is a time to celebrate.

In France, the third Thursday in November is usually a day of fireworks and festivals, when people pause to celebrate a uniquely French custom: the uncorking of the first Beaujolais of the season.

But in a country in deep mourning, no one feels much like celebrating.

Reservations were down sharply for at one major hotel, and bars were ordering far fewer bottles than normal, Christian Navet of the main hotel association told Agence France-Press.

Bar and restaurant owners say business is down since Friday night's attacks, which left 129 people dead and 352 injured.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, French President Francois Hollande is urging people to go out and enjoy themselves and not let the attacks destroy what is precious in French culture.

"What would our country be without its cafes?" Hollande asked.

, an association representing wine producers, said the group considered canceling some of the events celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau Day, but in the end decided not to.

"It is the French culture; it is the French way of life, which has been put in jeopardy," Jean Bouradje told the Associated Press.

For some, a spirit of defiance mingled with the fear and sadness they are feeling, and even some people who don't like Beaujolais Nouveau went out to celebrate, the AP reported:

"Many Parisians are determined to raise a glass — even those who consider Beaujolais Nouveau's popularity a product of savvy marketing rather than quality.

" 'The Beaujolais isn't good wine. But everyone will go out on purpose tonight,' said 63-year-old Lucienne Tavera, sitting with two friends on a cafe terrace near the Bataclan concert hall, where the deadliest of the attacks unfolded.

" 'Tonight, we won't care how it tastes.' "

"Our hearts are hurting terribly," Nicolas Decatoire, who runs the Le Gavroche restaurant in the old financial quarter, told the AFP. "But we cannot forget our traditions. ... This is French New Year," he joked, "and we can't be dictated to by a gang of idiots."

Antoines Gueguen, owner of Les Caves Saint-Martin, a wine shop, told Quartzhe decided to celebrate the day in a more subdued fashion:

"Gueguen, who in the past would send out email invitations to the first-day tasting, didn't do so this year. Instead, he is relying on the poster on the door and the loyalty of his customers to make the day a success."

For those who did manage to go out, there was one consolation: Winemakers say this year's Beaujolais Nouveau is among the best in a long time.

"We had a wet spring then record sunshine in July when the Rhone region was the hottest in the whole of France. It's a historic vintage," Bourjade told the AFP.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.