Wine sales in the Hospices de Beaune historical monument
Founded in 1443, the hospital Hospices de Beaune’s original purpose was to heal the poor and most disadvantaged in Burgundy. Transformed into a museum in present time, the Hospices de Beaune now represent the most visited historical monument in Burgundy with nearly 500 000 visitors per year.
Strengthened by six-centuries long of existence, the Hospices de Beaune were offered vineyards as a gift for their charitable services and activities. With this large donation, the Hospices were able to establish a 61-hectare wine domain. For the last 160 years, its production has now been sold every third Sunday of the month of November in Beaune, the Burgundy wine capital, in the midst of its famous wine sale.
Affected by the Covid-19 crisis, the 160th wine sale which was supposed to be held on Sunday 15th of November did not take place. This will not be the first time as the wine sale had been cancelled in the past, such as in the years 1959 and 1968 when vintages turned out to be very poor or during war periods. In this article, we will introduce you to the Hospices’ fascinating history, its wine sale and the domain’s broader historical background.
crédit : arnaudchicurel.fr
The Hospices de Beaune’s history
The Hospices de Beaune’s construction was completed in 1443. The Duc of Burgundy Philippe Le Bon’s extraordinarily wealthy chancellor, Nicolas Rollin, was its founder. The Hospices were founded to gratuitously cure and provide medical care for the Kingdom’s poorest citizens. The building typically encapsulates 15th century architecture, well known for its traditionally Burgundian varnished titled roof. Today, the Hospices are no longer used as a hospital but as a tourist site and Burgundian landmark. The revenues raised from visits, souvenirs and wine sales have allowed for the creation of over 700 people. Profits are further donated to Beaune’s hospitals and nursing homes.
crédit : hospicesdebeaune.com
The Burgundian barrels’ sale
Historically, the Hospice de Beaune’s wine sales have always existed and started as soon as the Hospice’s creation itself; making it the world’s oldest charity sale in the world. Since 1859, the sale has been conducted by auctions. Even more interestingly, the prestigious auction house Christie's has been in charge of the sale since 2005. Burgundian barrels of 228 liters were put in sale, called “pieces de vin” in French.
In fact, the famous auction house Christie's has been in charge of the sale since 2005. The 228-liter Burgundy barrels - known as "pièces de vin” in French - are put up for sale.
The Hospices de Beaune’s vineyards and appellations
Like many hospitals in France, the Hospices de Beaune were offered land throughout history. Given the hospital’s location, the Hospices were granted vineyards, as a gift. Today, the domain stretches out over 61 hectares of vines, of which 85% is classified with “Premier” and “Grand Cru” appellations. Nowadays, the Hospices’ domain produces 50 different vintages.
33 in red, produced under the following appellations :
- Village : Pommard, Santenay
- Premier Cru : Auxey-Duresses, Beaune, Monthelie, Volnay, Pernand-Vergelesses, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Pommard
- Grand Cru : Corton Grand Cru, Echezeaux Grand Cru, Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru, Clos de la Roche Grand Cru
17 in white, produced under the following appellations :
- Village : Saint-Romain, Pouilly-Fuissé, Puligny-Montrachet
- Premier Cru : Meursault, Beaune, Chablis
- Grand Cru : Bâtard-Montrachet, Corton, Corton Charlemagne
Since 1995, The Hospices de Beaune’s domain has been cultivating its vines through responsible viticulture, following organic viticulture principles. The domain no longer uses herbicides nor any other synthetic product. To maintain the domain’s 61 hectares of vines, Ludivine Griveau (the domain’s first female manager as of 2014) hires 23 winemakers which share vineyards’ tending.
At the Hospices de Beaune, vinification processes are undertaken according to the vintage. The grapes are destemmed or kept whole depending on the year’s typicity. The red grapes are crushed and fermented in vats for 3 weeks. Once the alcoholic fermentation is finished, the grapes are slowly pressed with the help of a pneumatic press. For the white grapes, the wine is pressed as soon as it arrives and will continue its alcoholic fermentation directly in the barrel, following the greatest Burgundian tradition. Since 2012, the Grands Crus are aged in particular wine barrels, built with "Grand Cru" oaks.
In 2020, the President’s “pièce” (barrel), referring to the barrel whose sale is later given to an association for charity, was created with oak originating from the Chambord Castle’s forest.
crédit : hospicesdebeaune.com
During the auctions held in Beaune every 3rd Sunday afternoon of the month of November, traders and buyers meet under Beaune’s hall, but they equally attend the sale by internet or call via phone. Auctions are held for each wine barrel or set of barrels. The buyer who wins the auction will have his wine aged by the wine merchant of his choice. He will then receive the bottles bearing the Hospices de Beaune labels one to two years after the sale. Each chooses his wine merchant to age his wine. You can therefore find bottles originating from the Hospices de Beaune from different wine merchants such as the Maison Joseph Drouhin or the Maison Champy.
Over the last 15 years, the wine merchant Albert Bichot, specialized in the purchase of the Hospices de Beaune’s barrels, has remained the Hospices’ first buyer. The house has opened and democratized its sale to the general public by allowing anyone to purchase a bottle in provenance of the Hospices de Beaune.
The sales’ profits are then donated to Beaune’s hospital and to the Hospices’ museum. Each year, a barrel of wine is designated as the “president’s barrel” or as in French, “la pièce du Président”, whose’ sale’s profit is attributed to an association. To this day, the record is held by the president’s barrel of 2015, which’s sale was destined to the victims’ families following the 13th of November 2015 attacks. That year, the Corton Grand Gru’s 228 L barrel was sold for € 480 000.
From year to year, the wines of the Hospices de Beaune’s wines are sold at ever-increasing prices. To give you an idea, between 2010 and 2019, the average price went from € 6 991 to € 21 823, either an increase of 212% in 9 years. More specifically, several records deserve greater emphasis:
- 828: this is the number of wine barrels produced and sold at the 2018 sale, thanks to a record vintage in terms of quantity.
- €480,000: this is the most expensive “President's pièce” ever sold at the 2015 wine auction.
- €21,823: this is the record in terms of the highest wine barrel’s average price. This record was set in 2019.
crédit : La Dépêche.fr
Celebrating the Beaune region
The Hospices de Beaune’s wine sales is not only an event reserved for the Hospices. Indeed, during that specific weekend, the whole city of Beaune is celebrating: wine merchants and cellarmen open their best bottles. The Saturday evening, the wine houses organize gala dinners where the Grands Crus and the vintages are open in large numbers. We would strongly advise you to run to Beaune during the Hospices’ sale week-end, to immerse yourself into this typical Burgundian atmosphere.
crédit : BourgogneLive