Beaune is idyllic, a jewel among Burgundian towns. Once a year it is a place of pilgrimage for wine connoisseurs: every November the world's largest charity wine auction is held within the time-honoured walls of the historic Hospices de Beaune hospital, attracting merchants and lovers of fine wines alike. The prices that are achieved are regarded as an indicator for the wine market. More and more private individuals also come in search of coveted wine rarities.
History of the wine auction at the Hospices de Beaune
A former hospital in Beaune, the Hôtel-Dieu was founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, chancellor and treasurer to Duke Philip of Burgundy – called Philip the Good – and Rolin's wife Guigone de Salins. The hospice took on the task of caring for the destitute sick, as well as offering pilgrims and other travellers a place to lay their heads. To this day the hospital is mainly financed by income from its vineyards: these have come into the possession of the foundation since its establishment through bequests from the sick.
Even today the parcels, as well as the labels on the wines they produce, bear the names of their former owners. Over time the foundation discovered the auction as a funding concept. The first bottle was knocked down to a successful bidder in 1859, and the third Sunday in November has been the fixed date for the Hospices de Beaune wine auction ever since. The wine auction funds health research projects as well as the hospital.
How the celebrations take place
The "three glorious days" ("Trois Glorieuses") are celebrated every year on the third weekend in November. They also mark the completion of the Burgundy grape harvest. The festival begins on the Saturday at Clos de Vougeot, a vineyard with the largest Grand Cru area in the Côte d'Or. The sworn knighthood of wine tasters, the Chevaliers du Tastevin, congregates at the Château du Clos de Vougeot. Only those who have rendered outstanding services to wine culture are invited to this exclusive gathering. The festival concludes on the Monday afternoon in the winemaking town of Meursault with a banquet, La Paulée de Meursault.The highlight is the Hospices de Beaune wine auction. Advance tastings are held in the wine cellar of the Hospices, attended by experts from all over the world, to discover the new Hospices de Beaune wines and assess them.
The Hospices de Beaune auction
Until 2005 wines at the Hospices de Beaune auction were knocked down as soon as the candle went out. Today the Hospices de Beaune wine auction is managed by the Christie's auction house, which also grants private individuals access to the event. The option to bid online for one of the precious bottles was introduced in 2009, so people who are unable to travel to Beaune can now take part as virtual bidders on the internet. The auctioneer first announces the appellation of the wine, followed by the name of the vineyard's founder – and finally the number of available barrels, for example: "Meursault-Genevrières, Philippe le Bon, seven barrels".The Hospices de Beaune wine auction is not only a charitable event and the perpetuation of a Burgundian tradition. Every self-respecting wine merchant tries to buy wine at the Hospices de Beaune auction, which makes the auction a benchmark for the wine market. Finally, the tastings give prospective buyers and wine experts their first opportunity to assess the quality of the vintages and put it to the test. The bidding level is a strong indicator of quality and future demand, determining the commercial success of Burgundy wines. The level is also considered an important indicator for assessing values and setting prices on the global wine market. In good years some Hospices de Beaune wines achieve record values. 2015 was such a year: a barrel (228 litres) of Corton-Renardes Grand Cru changed hands for 480,000 euros. The annual income of the Hospices de Beaune wine auction ranges from 1.8 to 11 million euros.
Hospices de Beaune wines from the best sites in Burgundy
The Hospices de Beaune own the finest sites in the surrounding Côte d'Or, including many Premier Cru sites and a few Grands Crus. The Hospices have an impressive 61 hectares, which provide the grapes for 37 different wines. The reds are dominated by the Pinot noir grape, while the preferred variety for the whites is Chardonnay.
The Hospices vineyards account for the bulk of Burgundy's production. The terroir is mainly composed of the best sites of the Côte de Beaune region to the south. Only two parcels of the Côte de Nuits passed into the ownership of the foundation, though these are both Grands Crus.
Its vineyards are in any case excellent, and the Hospices de Beaune safeguards their high quality by carefully looking after them. Winemakers take care of yield limitation, pruning and fertilization – but the subsequent development of Hospices de Beaune wines then depends on the buyers, who cellar them and sometimes resell them as merchants.
Anyone who buys a bottle bearing the coat of arms of the Hospices de Beaune foundation can consider themselves fortunate. If you weren't successful at the auction or you don't want to bid yourself, Mondovino has a special offer for you: with just a few clicks you can order one of the coveted Hospices de Beaune wines from our range at a fixed low price, and have it conveniently delivered to your door.