December 5th, 2012 - by Pei Yeng

152nd wine auction of the Hospices de Beaune: history and vineyards

Hi this is your wine guide Peggy with a first post about the history of Wine Auction of the Hospices de Beaune. This year, on the November 18th , Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy region is having the most important wine event in France and even in the whole world; it’s the 152nd Wine Auction of the Hospices de Beaune.

As I was researching information about this event at their official website, I came across the interesting story about the origin of this auction that I would like to share with you:

At the end of the Hundred Years’ War, in a context of misery and famine, Nicolas Rolin, chancelor of the Duke of Burgundy, Philippe le Bon, and his spouse, Guigone de Salins, created a hospital and refuge for the poor and needy. In 1443 the Hospices de Beaune was born.

In 1452 the Hôtel-Dieu, welcomed its first patient. From then on and up to the 20th century, the Sisters of the Hospices de Beaune took care of the sick, elderly, disabled and needy. The last sick person left the Hôtel-Dieu in 1983.

Over the centuries, many grateful families and generous benefactors donated farms, property, woods, works of art and of course vineyards! From that time, the funds collected thanks to the sale of the products of the vines donated have been designated to financing the acts of charity of the Hospices.

In 1859, for the first time, the wines of the Hospices were sold at auction. For many years thereafter, the sale took place by candle with adjudication being made after the last bid and at the end of the uninterrupted burning of two candles.

For reasons of time constraint, this traditional procedure is only applied today to a limited number of lots within the auction. Over the years, the wine auction of the Hospices de Beaune, every third Sunday of November has become the most famous charity wine sale in the whole world. The revenues drawn from this auction are used to maintain the heritage of the Hospices, as well as for the modernisation of hospital equipment and buildings.

Like other hospital establishments, Hospices de Beaune has a private estate, but this one is characterised by its very great prestige, which includes the Hôtel-Dieu, one of the most beautiful examples of gothic architecture with its multicoloured tiled roofs which is today run as a museum, and also vineyards of very great quality.

Domaine Viticole des Hospices de Beaune is a non-profit organisation which owns around 61 hectares (150 acres) of donated vineyard land, of which 50 hectares are dedicated to Pinot Noir, the rest to Chardonnay. 85% of the vineyards are classified Grand Cru and Premier Cru.

Today, the working of Domaine Viticole des Hospices de Beaune is still entrusted to vine-growers under contract and supervised by a régisseur or vineyard manager, Roland Masse, whose role is to direct their activities and to put into effect all decisions taken by the Board of Management.

The vineyards are mainly located around Beaune (Auxey-Duresses, Beaune, Meursault, Monthelie, Pommard, Pernand-Vergelesses, Chassagne-Montrachet, Savigny-les-Beaune, Volnay, Saint Romain and now Santenay) due to the geographical position of the Hospital. They have such prestigious names as Beaune Clos des Avaux Premier Cru, Corton Grand Cru, Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru etc. The Hospices de Beaune own vines on the Cote de Nuits as well with the Grands Crus Mazis-Chambertin and Clos de la Roche, and also and in the Maconnais with parcels of Pouilly-Fuissé. The average age of the vines is around 35 years.

The cuvées are sometimes from single vineyards, and sometimes the result of harmonious assemblage of different climates, which contributes to creating the originality of the wines of the Domaine Viticole des Hospices de Beaune.