Since 1859: the history of the Hospices de Beaune wine auction
The Hospices wines were sold at auction for the first time in 1859 to maximize the Hôpital de Beaune’s revenue. For many years, the auction took place à la bougie (by candle), the sale going to the last bidder before two candles expired after burning continuously. Today, this practice is only used for the auction of the Pièce de Charité (charity barrel). Albert Bichot bought its first wines at the auction in 1876! Over the years, the Hospices de Beaune wine auction has become the most famous wine charity sale in the world.
However it still respects its original charitable purpose which is to raise as much money as possible for the Hospices Civils de Beaune. The large sum of money raised (€14 M in 2018) enables the Hôpital de Beaune to fund numerous projects and all the town’s inhabitants benefit from these.
The Hospices de Beaune auction takes place each third Sunday in November, marking the completion of the winegrowing cycle and the vinification of our very fine, terroir wines. Lot after lot, the Domaine des Hospices’ 50 wines will be sold and acquired by lovers of fine Burgundy wines from around the world.
The Hospices de Beaune auction: a sale of the year’s wines ‘en primeur’ (as futures)
The 50 Hospices de Beaune wines put up for auction are sold ‘en primeur’ (as futures). It is always the current year’s vintage that is put up for auction. During the auction on the third Sunday in November, the wine has only just been vinified by Ludivine Griveau in the Domaine des Hospices winery. It is therefore a very young wine, too young of course to have delivered all its complexity and potential.
Once acquired at auction, its ageing must therefore be entrusted to a professional with real savoir-faire such as Albert Bichot, a great Burgundy wine company and the top buyer at the auction for the last 20 years. The ageing stage lasts between 12 to 18 months before bottling and shipping. The ageing of the Hospices wines, like all Burgundy wine, is a vital step, a combination of savoir-faire, technical work and experience. Learn more about the Albert Bichot art of wine ageing on this page, i.e. the precision, high standards and attention to detail we apply to the ageing of the Hospices wines that our customers entrust into our care.
The Hospices de Beaune wines are not the only fine wines that are sold ‘en primeur’. It is the same for the most prestigious Bordeaux ‘crus classés’, but these are sold in the March following the harvest when the wines are around six months old. (NB: The wines from the Hospices de Nuits are sold in the March following the harvest).
Tasting and selecting the Hospices de Beaune wines ‘en primeur’: a very difficult exercise, carried out before the auction, in which experience and expertise are of prime importance
One of the main difficulties for the wine lover wishing to buy a Hospices de Beaune wine at the auction is that these fine wines are only a few weeks old when they are sold. Because, although the harvest date will vary for each vintage, a little earlier or little later, the date of the Hospices auction is always fixed, the third Sunday in November.
As a consequence, tasting and analysing the wines before the auction is a particularly challenging exercise. This is because, on the one hand, the wines are very young (they have only just completed their alcoholic fermentation) and, on the other, because all the wines are housed in new barrels. The ‘prise de bois’ (taking on of the oak) impacts the different wines aromatically. Extensive experience and technical winemaking expertise are therefore needed to analyse, compare and evaluate the 17 white wines and 33 red wines and thereby discern their ageing and development potential. As a great Burgundy wine house and the top buyer at the auction, Albert Bichot is naturally well qualified to undertake this delicate mission. Our expertise is available to all wine drinkers wishing to buy these mythical wines at auction with complete confidence.
The Hospices de Beaune wine auction: the highlight of the Trois Glorieuses and a great weekend of festivities
Throughout the weekend, a traditional festival animates the streets of Beaune, the old medieval town that is the capital of Burgundy wines. Parades, tastings, a half-marathon, concerts etc. there is no shortage of fun for adults, children, family and friends, come from all over the world to celebrate wine in all its glory. The Trois Glorieuses (three glorious days) is the name given to three major events that mark the end of the winegrowing cycle in Burgundy:
- The Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin wine brotherhood’s Chapter (banquet) at Le Clos de Vougeot on the Saturday night
- The Hospices de Beaune auction on the Sunday afternoon
- La Paulée de Meursault on the Monday lunchtime.