It’s more than just a tradition, it’s an institution. Each year, on the third Sunday in November, the whole world of wine turns its attention to the French town of Beaune. This is where a major charity wine auction has taken place in the Halles opposite the famous monument founded by the Duke of Burgundy’s chancellor since 1859. Wine merchants from Burgundy and bidders from all over the world come to hold up their paddles or raise prices for the famous ‘pièces’ over the phone. Cyrille Jomand, CEO and co-founder of iDealwine, has been a loyal participant in this auction for almost 20 years.
This event also provides the perfect opportunity to celebrate wine in this charming small Burgundy town. The town centre streets are closed to traffic and come alive in a festive, friendly atmosphere. The whole town joins in the festivities to celebrate the wines harvested a few weeks earlier. Here’s the lowdown just for you!
The high point of the Trois Glorieuses
The wine auction traditionally held in the Hospices de Beaune on the 3rd Sunday in November is the culmination of a weekend of festivities.
But what exactly are the Trois Glorieuses? This is a reference to the French Revolution of 1830, also known as the July Revolution or Trois Glorieuses (Three Glorious Days). We need to travel back to Burgundy in 1930 to understand its origins. At the time, the winegrowing region faced a major economic crisis because of the Wall Street stock market crash of October 1929. “Since we can’t sell our wines, let’s drink them and invite our friends to enjoy them with us” proclaimed the winegrowers, who introduced the famous Paulée de Meursault and the renowned Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin at the Château du Clos de Vougeot there and then.
So, for all those wine professionals who are fortunate enough to participate in the full programme during this November weekend, the Trois Glorieuses constitute three essential events in Burgundy’s Bacchic wine festivities:
- The Chevaliers du Tastevin chapter at Château du Clos de Vougeot on the Saturday evening
- The Hospices de Beaune auction on the Sunday, followed by dinner at Le Bastion
- La Paulée de Meursault at Château de Meursault at lunchtime on the Monday.
Enough to put a smile on your face during this autumn month, but also to drain you of energy for your business meeting on Tuesday morning …
The Hospices de Beaune through the ages
Let’s go back a little further in time. Nicolas Rolin, chancellor to Philip the Good (Duke of Burgundy), and his wife Guigone de Salins founded the Hôtel-Dieu in 1443. This hospital was designed to care for and house the most destitute patients (‘pôvres’, meaning poor in Burgundian patois, is the name of the most famous room in the famous building, which provided the red-bed decor for Gérard Oury’s critically acclaimed French film La Grande Vadrouille). A number of wealthier patients expressed their gratitude to the hospital for the care it provided by donating vineyards. Why? Because in Burgundy “No other goods are more valuable than vines”. Jean Guillotte le Verrier was the first to donate vines to the Hôtel-Dieu in 1457. Numerous other donors followed suit, a unique way of thanking the institution for its care, of supporting it and, also of going down in history themselves! To this day, the cuvées sold at the Hospices de Beaune still bear the name of the family who donated the plots of vines whose grapes were used to produce them.
The institution’s mission has remained the same over the centuries: care is still provided at the Hospices Civils de Beaune, along with a number of satellite establishments, and the famous wine auction held there once a year is essentially a charity event.
Today, the Hospices de Beaune, financially supported by the charity auction, consists of:
- The Hospices Civils de Beaune (the hospital) and its establishments (the Beaune hospital centre, the Arnay-le-Duc, Seurre and Nuits-St-Georges hospitals)
- The Institute of Paramedical Training (IFSI/IFAS)
- The Hôtel-Dieu Museum
- The Domaine des Hospices de Beaune
- The Domaine des Hospices de Nuits
The Domaine des Hospices de Beaune
Today, the Domaine des Hospices de Beaune covers 60 hectares. These are the vineyards that were donated to the Domaine des Hospices de Beaune over the centuries and constitute the very fine heritage of the estate, 117 parcels mostly located in the Grands Crus and Premiers Crus (with very few exceptions). A total of 33 different red wines are produced from the Pinot Noir, while 17 different white wines are made from the Chardonnay.
The following are just a few of the appellations represented:
- In Côte de Beaune: Bâtard-Montrachet, Beaune Premier Cru Cuvée Dames Hospitalières, Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Avaux, Meursault Premier Cru Charmes, Meursault Premier Cru Genevrières, Pommard Premier Cru Epenots, Corton Charlemagne,
- In Côte de Nuits: Mazis-Chambertin, Clos de la Roche, Echézeaux…
- The estate has also owned some Pouilly-Fuissé vines in the Mâconnais since 1994 and in Chablis since 2015.
This is unquestionably one of the most impressive wine estates worldwide, especially as the Climats de Bourgogne are now listed as a World Heritage Site.
The estate was managed by Roland Masse until 2015, an expert on the terroirs and climats of his native region and undoubtedly one of the best advocates of Burgundy wines in his day. When we asked him what he would do when he retired, he answered quite matter-of-factly: “I haven’t made nearly enough wine in my life, so I’m going to carry on. I’ve planted vines in my garden. Only whites: Viognier, Sauvignon, and Muscats… But that’s just for a laugh.” Today, the estate is managed by Ludivine Griveau, who aims to ensure the long-term future of the wine estate (divided into 23 small holdings) with her entire team. She is both vineyard manager and cellar master.
How the auction is organised
The annual Hopices de Beaune auction, first held in 1859, traditionally takes place annually on the third Sunday in November in the Halles opposite the Hôtel Dieu (home to the famous Musée des Hospices de Beaune today). This charity event is one of the most widely covered in the international wine world and is also a true indicator of trends for the Burgundy wine market. Bidding is conducted in an auction room, as well as over the internet and by phone. To date, the highest bidder is still Maison Albert Bichot, from Beaune.
Here’s a short glossary to help you understand the proceedings:
- Cuvée: This is the name of the lots listed in the sale catalogue, showing both the appellation of the wine and the name of the benefactor who donated it to the estate. Bidders can sample the wines before the auction, and several tastings are held worldwide, particularly in Asia.
- Pièce: This is the name used to refer to the 228-litre barrels being auctioned. Here, we don’t buy bottled wine, because the wines made from grapes harvested a few months before haven’t finished ageing yet. Each lot purchased at the auction is entrusted to a wine merchant who is responsible for ageing and bottling the wines. As an example, when we acquire wines for iDealwine, they are matured by Louis Latour in Beaune.
- Pièce de charité / Pièce des Présidents: Each year, the proceeds of a special charity barrel (a 500-litre pièce this time) benefit one or several non-profit organisations, which are different from one year to the next. This barrel is represented by a public figure (from the film, music, or fashion industries, for example), who will sponsor the sale and support the pièce when it goes on sale. In 2010, Fabrice Lucchini supported Professor David Khayat’s cancer research association and the Red Cross; in 2011, Inès de La Fressange supported France Alzheimer and Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque; in 2017, Charles Aznavour supported the Tara Expeditions Foundation, the Federation for Brain Research and the Alzheimer’s Research Foundation…
For many years, the auction was held by candlelight, in other words, the hammer was struck only once two candles had burned uninterrupted. Today, only the Pièce de Charité special charity barrel is auctioned by candlelight, as a tribute to the past.
While the first auction was held in 1859, 2023 marked the 163rd edition. This is because a number of auctions were cancelled over the course of history. The auction was ‘adjourned’ in 1915 and 1916 during the First World War, and auctions were cancelled during the Second World War between 1939 and 1942. The vintages were so bad in 1956 and 1968 that the sales either did not take place or were held by sealed bids.
The 2015 auction was almost cancelled due to the Paris terror attacks, which occurred two days before it was due to take place. In the end, the auction was held in the context of national mourning, and the Pièce de Charité proceeds were donated to support the victims.
The reputation of the Hospices de Beaune auction
The Hospices de Beaune auction has long served as a barometer of market prices for Burgundy wines. Until the mid-2000s, the barrels were mainly acquired by wine merchants and professional buyers. All sizes remained the same, as the sale retains a charity-oriented character, so price changes acted as an indicator of the market price levels to be observed when merchants purchased grapes from grape producers.
While this sale is further evidence of the strong appeal of Burgundy wines among passionate private individuals, the high media profile of the event, combined with the fact that it is open to private customers, has contributed to accentuating the increase in prices, which are now completely disconnected from the real state of the market. By way of example, a pièce of Beaune Premier Cru fetched around €2,500 in 2005, rising to between €7,000 and €8,000 in 2014. Today, the event attracts wealthy Asian and American buyers in particular.
It remains important for wine professionals to follow it, as it is an unmissable opportunity to take the ‘pulse’ of the market.
iDealwine purchases wines at the Hospices de Beaune
For 10 years now, iDealwine has been participating in the Hospices de Beaune auction, offering you the opportunity to purchase individual bottles of these prestigious wines. We started purchasing pièces of different wines from the estate in 2005, entrusting them to Louis Latour. When the ageing period is over, these wines are available for you to purchase on our website.
Reading a label from the Hospices de Beaune
Let’s decipher a bottle of Hospices de Beaune wine, which sums up the history of this institution and the sale of the bottle you have acquired.
- Beaune 1er Cru: this is the premier cru appellation of the wine.
- Hospices de Beaune: these are the owners of the plots where the grapes are grown
- Cuvée Hugues et Louis Bétault: the two brothers who donated the vin
- Acquis par iDealwine: that’s us! L’enchérisseur (the bidder)
- Elevé et mis en bouteille par Maison Louis Latour: the famous wine merchant we’ve been talking about who ages and bottles our wine
- 2020: year of harvest and year during which we acquired this cuvée at auction
The results of the 163rd auction which took place on 19 November 2023
€23,221,000 for 753 pièces sold (an average price of €30,838) compared to nearly €29 million in 2022 for 802 pièces. 2023 the second highest grossing auction in the history of the Hospices.
The charity barrel, auction to benefit the Fondation pour la Recherche Médicale (FRM, medical reseach foundation) supported by Thierry Lhermitte and Initiative de Recherche pour une Longévité en Bonne Santé (IRLB, Initiative for Research on Healthy Longevity), supported by Michel Cymes was bought for €350,000. It was a Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru vinified in a barrel made from a two-hundred-year-old oak tree, the same one that was used to restore the spire of Notre Dame in Paris