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Spotlight on the Les Trois Glorieuses

The Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction

France has a richly diverse heritage of celebrating all aspects of life. Little incentive or excuse is needed when it comes to throwing an event or organising a festival. When it comes to set piece ‘occasions’ of real drama, France usually takes gold. 

Wine festivals / Naturally enough, for the country which boasts the greatest variety of wine on the planet, wine festivals are common. France has more grape varieties, more styles of wine, more types of terroir, a greater heritage of wine production, and a unique history interwoven by wine than any other country.

Wine festivals and events range from small affairs – perhaps a single domaine with its annual bash celebrating the vendange and hopefully selling a few bottles in the process. Or a village or wine producing commune with a number of vignerons and chais congregating and creating a small festival to entice locals, tourist and, not unreasonably, local restaurant trade.

Guests attend a wine tasting in the cellar of Hotel Dieu before the wine auction

Some of these stand out as important events. Burgundy, itself one of the world’s great wine producing regions, has the Festival of St Vincent which celebrates the patron saint of winegrowers. It is held in late January in different wine villages each year and involves a procession, a mass and a degree of pomp and circumstance.

A few euros buys you a special glass and you can then wander the village, sampling the wares of the participating growers. (Date for the diary: 27-28 January 2018). 

While this kind of event is all good fun, things can occasionally take on a larger scale and become a global event….

Beaune festival wine

The Beaune Wine Auction / One of the wine world’s high points, perhaps THE high point, is the Hospices de Beaune wine auction. This event is held in November over three colourful, high octane days, it is known as the Les Trois Glorieuses.

This is the oldest wine auction in the world, dating from 1859. But it is not just for the high rollers and big names of the wine world. The festivities include a street festival in Beaune itself, along with plenty of public tastings. There’s even a half marathon race through the vineyards.

On the Sunday the auction is held – organised by Christie’s and attracting buyers keen to purchase the young wines en primeur. This is a common feature of the wine trade whereby buyers are offered wines still in barrel (of 288 bottles) at a reduced price, before they are fully formed. The skill is in ascertaining how those wines will develop and mature and judging their future value.

The buyers are an international mix, many bidding online. Prices achieved are analysed carefully and a lot is read into the results: this charity sale is regarded as a barometer for the market in fine wine.

The venue is the Halles de Beaune at the Hôtel-Dieu, founded in 1443 as a hospital for the poor and needy. Only in 1971 was a new hospital opened and the old building became a historic museum. The design is iconic Burgundian style with its intricately decorated tiled roof and striking gables.

The wines sold come from the Hospices’ own vineyards, dispersed through the famous appellations of the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuits: Pommard, Corton-Charlemagne, Romanée-Conti, Savigny-les-Beaune, Meursault, Santenay, Nolay, Chagny… the roll call of vineyards and villages is magnificent and evocative in its own right.  

Hospices de Beaune

Annual sales are in the region of 5 million euros with some of the proceeds still going to care for the needy and heritage conservation projects. High profile charity lots are presented, usually with a sense of theatre and a celebrity connection to hopefully inflate the price paid. The President’s barrel (Corton Les Bressandes grand cru in 2016) went for $212,000 – equivalent to $736 per bottle before various taxes and other charges.

The third of the ‘glorious days’ is the Monday when the focus is very much on the commune of Meursault, one of the world’s greatest white wines. Here, they hold a feast (a special lunch or ‘Pauleé) to celebrate the harvest, with wine growers, workers, journalists and members of the wine trade from around the world each bringing their own bottles.

It’s quite a bash and incredibly difficult to secure an invitation but is perhaps the world’s largest bring-a-bottle-party with easily 150 wines on offer. The venue, the Château de Meursault is the belle of the ball, bedecked in all its finery.  

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