156th Hospices de Beaune wine auction
The Hospices de Beaune auction of Burgundy wines takes place on the third Sunday of November. This has happened every year since 1859.
The Hospices de Beaune began as a charitable almshouse in 1443, created by Nicolas Rolin. It provided care for the sick and shelter for the destitute, of which there were many in those hard times.
The original hospital building, the Hôtel-Dieu, in the centre of Beaune, is one of the finest examples of French fifteenth-century architecture, and is now a must-visit museum with world-class artworks. It is also a beautiful piece of design, with a patterned glazed-tile roof so typical of Burgundy only seen from the inner courtyard. Marauding bands that once roamed the countryside only saw a plainer exterior, not the splendour that lay within.
The sister Hospices are in the neighbouring villages of Nolay, Meursault and Pommard. Services for patients are now in modern hospital buildings.
Thanks to the many bequests of vineyards by wealthy benefactors down the years, these Hospices today oversee a large domaine of 61 hectares of mostly Premier Cru and Grand Cru Burgundy, both red and white.
The auction of the wines from these vineyards is perhaps the most prestigious in the world and always acts as a barometer of Burgundy’s status and the demand and price of the region’s wines. The wines are usually from the latest harvest, freshly made. They will need maturation by the buyers, whether private or professional, that come from all over the globe.
The wine auction used to be held in the Market Hall opposite the Hotel-Dieu and was a real piece of theatre. The auctioneer would accept bids for a barrel of wine only until a lit candle petered out. When it extinguished, the lot was over, and the winning bid declared.
This year, 48 different cuvées will be offered, with all proceeds from the sale benefiting medical treatments and the maintenance of the historic buildings – the Hospices are a non-profit charity and will probably raise something in the region of €6 million.
The auction is highly professional these days and has been run by Christies since 2009. While this Sunday sale is the centrepiece of the weekend, it marks a three-day festival devoted to the food and wines of Burgundy called Les Trois Glorieuses. The auction is preceded by a dinner at the Clos de Vougeot on Saturday night for 600 or so revellers and then followed by a “lunch” at La Paulée de Meursault for about 700 people on Monday. These go on for hours. All very bacchanalian.
There will also be many fringe events, cultural exhibitions and wine tastings. Many cellars have an open door policy, and the atmosphere is simply fantastic.
I’ve included some of my photography here.
Every wine lover ought to attend at least once – maybe I’ll see you there?