Burgundy's 147th Hospices de Beaune charity wine auction, held in the city of Beaune on Nov. 18, brought in 4,652,672 ($6.81 million), inclusive of the 7 percent buyer's premium. Fewer barrels went on the block this year, due to lower volumes for the region's producers after 2007's problematic harvest, bringing the auction total down 11 percent from last year's take. However, the final result can still be seen as a success. Due to the smaller number of lots, the percentage change for all Burgundies on offer increased by 27 percent. Red Burgundies, in particular, rose an even higher 38 percent.
For the third year in a row, the Hospices de Beaune auction was organized and conducted by Christie's, the international auction house. "This year we saw many new clients from Asia, Australia, America and Europe sending presale orders and bidding by telephone and via the Internet," said Anthony Hanson, senior wine consultant for Christie's. He added that strong bidding by a wide selection of buyers was sustained throughout the auction. However, the majority of the top 10 successful bids were made by Burgundians.
The annual charity auction—whose proceeds provide medical equipment for the local hospital as well as the upkeep of historical monuments, such as the world-famous Hôtel-Dieu in Beaune—consists of barrel lots produced from vineyards owned by the Hospices. Individuals may bid on barrel lots, with the minimum purchase set at a single barrel instead of buyers being obligated to acquire the entire tranche (in the past, collectors could only bid through a Burgundy négociant). The winning bidders take possession of their wines after they are aged and bottled by a Burgundy négociant. Each barrel, after maturation, yields 288 bottles (24 cases of 12 bottles or of 6 magnums), which carry the Hospices label and include the buyer's name.
The results of the sale often give Burgundy drinkers an indication of the wine quality and prices they can expect from the new vintage. "You know, we didn't have a good summer, but the Hospices made a strong selection [of the best grapes]," said Louis-Fabrice Latour, CEO of Louis Latour and president of the Syndicat des Négociants en Vins de Bourgogne. "The wines were showing well. I was not expecting such an increase in the reds. Twenty to 25 percent wouldn't have been a surprise, but 38 percent was unexpected. I think we had a 65 percent increase [for the whites] last year, so we weren't expecting another increase."
A total of 607 barrels went on the block this year (down from 680 barrels in 2006), 469 of which were red wine and 138 white. One new cuvée was offered this year, the Corton Clos du Roi Cuvée Baronne du Baÿ which averaged a record 12,840 ($18,831) per barrel. The top lot from the sale was Bâtard Montrachet Cuvée Dames de Flandres, which fetched 55,640 ($81,547), close to the presale high estimate. A second lot of Cuvée Dames de Flandres sold for 52,430 ($76,758). Next in line were three lots of Clos de la Roche Grand Cru Cuvée Cyrot-Chaudron that brought in 38,520, 37,520 and 34,240 respectively ($56,393, $54,129 and $50,120). A private European collector snared a barrel of Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru Cuvée Madeleine Collignon for 34.240 ($54,127).
Since 1945, the Hospices has supported additional charities chosen by visiting dignitaries or celebrities with the offering of a special "President's Barrel." This year, the President's Barrel was a Beaune premier cru, Cuvée Nicolas Corton, which raised 65,000 ($95,160) to benefit France ADOT (Federation of Associations for the Donation of Organs and Blood) and ELA (European Association Against Leucodystrophy). These organizations were selected by the French actor Richard Berry and three former holders of the Miss France crown.
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