This story was updated March 13 to reflect final auction results.
Burgundy's second most famous charity auction is grabbing a lot more attention these days. On March 12, the 62nd edition of the Hospices de Nuits-St.-Georges auction took place both online and at its usual location, Château du Clos de Vougeot in Burgundy. This is the fourth year in a row that the Hospices has opted for a modern format with a livestreamed auction—anyone with an internet connection can bid online or simply watch via a French auction website. And the format is paying off.
This year's auction raised a total of €3.6 million, up 45 percent from last year's sale. The average red wine barrel price was down slightly from last year’s of €22,482, but there were more barrels for sale after a larger harvest in 2022. The most expensive lot was a barrel of premier cru Les Saint-Georges Cuvée Georges Faiveley. Domaine Faiveley's owners bought the barrel for €55,000.
"We felt there was a need for a new dynamic and a good pace—it's not like art auctions where you need time to consider the artwork," said Aymeric de Clouet, the wine expert who, with Dijon auctioneer Hugues Cortot, was brought in to revitalize the auction in 2020.
The Hospices de Nuits-St.-Georges dates to the late 13th century and began as a home for lepers. It eventually became a small hospital, though the actual buildings have suffered destruction during wars and changed over time. Wealthy families donated vineyard plots to support the medical facilities. In 1692, the current hospital opened and today it is a public health facility. New premises opened in 2018, providing care for the elderly. The construction was financed by the wine estate. Today the Domaine des Hospices de Nuits-St.-Georges owns almost 29 acres, with six village appellations and nine premiers crus, and produces 18 wines.
The domaine has a monopole, the prestigious Nuits-St.-Georges Premier Cru "les Didiers," which was the first parcel harvested in 2022. The organizers auctioned 13 barrels from the monopole.
The wines are sold by the barrel—228 liters or about 288 bottles. Anyone can bid, but if you are a private buyer, you must connect, either before or after your purchase, with a Burgundy wine merchant for the aging, bottling and labeling of the wine, or it won't have the appellation. The cost of that service is in addition to the barrel price.
In addition to the fast-paced format and online access, the organizers also introduced two new cuvées. A first for this vintage is one barrel of Nuits-St.-Georges Premier Cru Les St.-Georges Vieilles Vignes cuvée "Hugues Perdrizet", an homage to the first donor to the Hospices, who bequeathed two vineyard plots in 1688. This cuvée was made from a selection of the domaine's oldest vines. It was bought for €40,000 by Albert Bichot.
The other recent introduction is the Charity pièce, a single barrel called the Cuvée des Bienfaiteurs. Proceeds support Les Blouses Roses, a nonprofit that helps vulnerable children, teens and elderly, with two programs in mind—one for animal therapy for children and teens, another for music therapy for children.
This lot is sold differently than the others. It is sold at the fixed price of €150 per bottle, with a maximum purchase of 24 bottles. By the time the gavel came down, it had raised a total of €63,630. The wine will be held one year by the Hospices de Nuits-St.-Georges and delivered next year at the 63rd edition of the auction. It is a blend of the estate's nine premiers crus, making it unique to this occasion. "Before our arrival, the charity pièce was a different wine every year, and I felt this was lacking in identity," said Clouet. "I wanted to see the evolution [of the wine] every year. Why not make a cuvée that reflects the domaine as an assemblage? So we decided to blend the nine premiers crus."
Since the changes implemented by Clouet and Cortot, the auction has gained momentum, though the event is still less famous than the Hospices de Beaune charity auction held each November. Between 2020 and 2022, sales have risen 54 percent. The average price of a barrel of the red wine reached a high of €22,482 last year, compared to €13,036 in 2020.
Most of the buyers are wine merchants, and in years when the volume is low and demand is high, that tends to push out private buyers. That was the case last year when the auction only had 109 barrels to sell and all of the wine went to wine merchants, with prices hitting record highs for a sum of €2.49 million, a 30 percent increase on the previous year.
Often the wine merchants are buying, at least in part, for private clients who want a small quantity. But this year, the organizers are hoping that a bountiful crop—158 barrels of red and 3 barrels of white will usher in the return of private buyers. "This year we have 161 [barrels], so we don't have the pressure," said Clouet. "We hope we'll have a lot more private individuals buying this year."
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