What do I need to know about buying a barrel of wine at auction? Who bottles the wine?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I'm considering buying a barrel of wine at the Hospices de Beaune charity wine auction in Burgundy. How long should I expect the wine to age in barrel? And how much should I expect the aging and bottling to cost?

—Jared, Springfield, Ill.

Dear Jared,

When you buy a "barrel" of wine at a charity auction like Hospices de Beaune, you’re actually buying a barrel’s worth of wine, but not a literal barrel. The auction winner gets the finished wines in bottle. A typical Burgundy barrel is 228 liters, so that amounts to about 25 cases of wine.

I checked in with the organization to get more details and they put me in touch with Jean-David Camus, who works with Burgundy's Maison Albert Bichot, a historic maison in Burgundy that has been the top buyer at Hospices for the past 20 years. (The maison also has bragging rights to purchasing the first barrels ever sold at Hospices de Beaune, in 1876!) On average, Bichot buys about 100 barrels at the auction each year, which represents about 15 percent of the total wine offered.

Jean-David said that the aging of the barrels typically lasts between 10 and 16 months after the auction. For example, the wines made from grapes harvested this year and auctioned in November will be bottled around spring 2020 and then shipped to buyers.

On top of a barrel's “hammer price,” there is an additional fee, which includes the auctioneer’s fee, plus expenses for barrel aging and bottling, labeling and packing. Some barrel auctions have a fixed price for those fees per barrel, while others do a proportional cost based on a percentage of the hammer price. At Hospices du Beaune, Jean-David says, there is a price list associated with the value of each lot. A $7,000 barrel will have about another $7,000 in fees, for a final per-bottle price of about $46, but the proportional fee per bottle goes down as the barrel fee goes up, so a $23,000 barrel will only carry about $16,000 in fees, yielding a per-bottle total cost of about $128.

And as you must already know since you're considering it, wineries and négociants aren't the only folks who can buy a barrel of wine (or something more manageable, like just a case or two) at Burgundy's Hospices de Beaune auction. U.S. consumers can check out Hospices-Beaune.com for more info.

—Dr. Vinny

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