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

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

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

Collecting Auctions Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

What does the word “unctuous” mean in a wine tasting note?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the term "unctuous," typically ascribed to …

May 20, 2019

Are collectible wines still collectible after the wine has gone bad?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny talks to Penfolds winemaker Peter Gago about 50-year-old …

May 17, 2019

Why aren't bottles stored on their sides at wine stores?

Wine's Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why wine bottles need to be stored on their …

May 15, 2019

Is there a polite way to tell a winemaker that I'm not enjoying their wines?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny suggests a few etiquette tips for kindly declining an …

May 13, 2019

Do you swirl a glass of sparkling wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why there's no need to swirl a glass of …

May 10, 2019

Is it OK to ask guests to bring expensive wine to a party?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny talks party etiquette.

May 8, 2019




Restaurant Search

Restaurant Search