All roads lead to Beaune

The annual Hospices de Beaune auction broke records this year. We look at the story behind the famous sale.

© Tourism Beaune | The hospice has occupied a unique place in the heart of Beaune for nearly 600 years.

The world may be facing an economic meltdown, but that hasn’t stopped people from spending record sums at the Hospices de Beaune auction this weekend to secure the best of Burgundy.

With receipts of nearly $31 million, the weekend sale more than doubled its own record of $14.5 million in 2018. It also broke the record for largest charity wine auction of all time, and the average price per lot also increased by around $1,000.

The auction, which takes place on Sunday afternoon in the hall of Les Halles de Beaune, is unique. The wines offered for sale come from plots of vines accumulated over nearly 600 years through donations and legacies. It amounts to more than 60 hectares (150 acres) of vines, most of them with grand and premier cru status.

But behind the glamor and the grand banquets, there is a lot of hard work, especially from Sotheby’s, the auction house responsible for organizing the sale. Wine-Searcher met Amayès Aouli, European wine manager at Sotheby’s, the day before the big sale.

What are your expectations for this year’s auction?

The mission of this year’s auction is really to score a fine cellar. 2022 is one of the biggest vintages for the Hospice de Beaune, the only biggest vintage was 2018 and that’s an extreme contrast to 2021 which was the smallest vintage since 1977. We’ve been running two extremes since Sotheby’s took over the management of the Hospice Auction. The expectation is to achieve a really smooth and well-executed sale.

The Hospices de Beaune is the most complex wine auction in the world, it is the best known, the most recognized, but also the most complex, because we do not know how the auction will evolve. There are too many variables, because the wines are still in barrels, it’s a charity race, but also thanks to the uniqueness of these wines. Moreover, the possibility of tasting the wines en primeur before the auction could change people’s plans as to what they want to acquire. As we are so close to the vintage, it is quite difficult to predict.

My low estimate is $14 million, but that’s very hard to predict. On the other hand, what we do know is that the demand for Burgundy is there and that the Hospices de Beaune are gaining notoriety. The wines of Ludivine Griveau [Le Domaine des Hospices de Beaune winemaker]who is a super talented winemaker, are super precise, crisp and mineral – in a style much loved by private collectors.

With the foundation of the Hospices de Beaune dating back to the 15th century and the 162nd edition of the auction this year, how important is cultural and historical heritage today?

For the Hospice de Beaune, the link with the historical heritage is essential. Everything is related to history, there are historical references and symbols everywhere. Dating back to 1443 for the founding of the Hôtel de Dieu, it has since been a fundamental element of Burgundian history. The heritage is amplified by all the names of cuvées, which are linked to historical references and donations to the Domaine des Hospices de Beaune. All of the wines we sell today are truly the result of generous donations over time, from the 15th century to the last addition four years ago.

The rich history of the Hospice contrasts with the modern approach to auction promotion. In order to bring more customers from all over the world, we hold 20 wine tasting events around the world, including New York, Miami, Stockholm and others. At these events, we showcase past vintages to demonstrate the style of the finished wine.

On the other hand, what future for the Hospices de Beaune?

While our goal is to maintain the popularity and prestige of Hospices de Beaune in the future, I see future opportunities in more people participating in the auction, possibly in the form of split auctions.

© Wine-Searcher | Sotheby’s head of wine for Europe, Amayès Aouli, said expectations were hard to predict.

How do you manage the vineyard? Is there a common practice across the number of terroirs?

The considerable size of the vineyards determines their mode of maintenance. They are neat winegrowers who are located nearby, which allows us to benefit from their know-how within the specific terroir.

As for the unifying element of viticulture, this year the Domaine announced the conversion to organic viticulture targeting all wines produced from 2024 certified organic. We see this decision as a continuation of the organization owned by the hospital, placing more emphasis on health-related issues.

Can you tell us about the style of wine and the wine-growing logistics of the Hospices de Beaune?

The Domaine owns 60 ha of vineyards in total, with 80 percent premier cru and grand cru vineyards, stretching from Chablis to Pouilly, giving us many wonderful terroir options. After the harvest, all the wines are vinified by Ludivine Griveau and her team, since 2015 the style tends to be precise and mineral, favoring an optimal harvest time, precision for the whites and gentle extraction for the reds. Then, the wine is decanted into new oak barrels, which are transported to the Cuverie des Hospices.

Once the barrel is auctioned, the new owner selects a merchant, who completes the aging and bottles the wine once it is finished. The breeder can decide on the length of aging, the type of wood and the filtration before bottling, depending on the style of wine desired. Bottling is done according to the customer’s wishes, with several possibilities of format, case size and above all the possibility of including the customer’s name on the label. It’s a fantastic way to attach your name to the charity’s wonderful history.

Can you give us more information about the participants of the auction?

The specificity of this sale is that Burgundy merchants make up 60 to 70% of purchases. They bid for themselves or for their customers, who may be private individuals, restaurateurs, other players in the wine industry. Apart from that, we have individuals, who personally participate in this sale. In the end, everything is linked because as soon as you buy a barrel, you have to age it at a merchant for one or two years before bottling.

When it comes to individual bidders, we see an even split between their origins for Europe, the US, and Asia (each representing a third). France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and the United Kingdom are strongly represented on the European market. The US market is very dynamic right now. We see that American collectors are returning with happiness after last year still affected by the pandemic. Obviously, the strength of the US dollar is working in their favour, making a difference of about 20% compared to last year. As for the Asians, they mainly focus on the premier crus and grands crus, which ultimately make up around 80% of all the wines auctioned at the Hospices. In addition, the highest premier and grand cru wines are often purchased by European bidders, while the French focus much more on premier crus and villages in general.

How are auction proceeds used and what are they used for?

The entire sale of over 819 cuvées this year contributes to a charity – the Hospices de Beaune – contributing to the renovation, refurbishment and construction of the hospital and museum, with one notable exception – Exhibit of Presidents. This year, the profits go to children – the Princess Margot association (support for children with cancer) and the organization World Vision (which focuses on helping vulnerable children).

This year, the Presidents’ Piece, made from a blend of grapes from the Hospices plots in Corton Les Renardes, Corton Les Bressandes and Corton Les Chaumes, was sold for the record sum of $810,000.

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Elisha A. Tilghman