What is the Hospices de Beaune?
The annual Hospices de Beaune auction is one of the most significant events in the wine-world calendar. Beginning in 1859, it is the oldest and most famous charity wine auction in the world. The primary purpose of the auction is to raise money for the Hospices de Beaune, a charitable foundation that funds many different charities, including a prestigious hospital and other medical charities in Burgundy. The origins of this foundation date back to the 1400’s.
The Hôtel-Dieu in Beaune was founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor to Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy (1419-1467). The purpose of the hospital was to help the sick and poor and alleviate some of the misery caused by the 100 Years’ War. Its iconic, flamboyant Gothic architecture, with multi-coloured, Flemish roof-tiles sets it apart as one of the finest examples of 15th century French architecture. Today the Hôtel Dieu in Beaune is one of Burgundy’s most famous land-marks, a historic monument which welcomes close to half a million visitors each year.
The title of Hospices de Beaune originates from the 19th century merger of the Hôtel-Dieu with another local hospital, the Hospice de la Charité.
Along with the revenue generated by the famous Hôtel-Dieu, the Hospices de Beaune also owns a 61 hectare domaine of Grand Cru & Premier Cru wines. This legendary land-holding has been built up over 6 centuries from gifts and endowments from local vignerons. These parcels include holdings in the famous white wine appellations of Bâtard-Montrachet, Corton-Charlemagne and Meursault and famous Grand Crus reds including Mazis –Chambertin and Clos de la Roche. It is the wines from this amazing patch-work of parcels situated across the Côte de Beaune that are sold at the annual charity wine auction. All the money raised from the auction goes to the Hospices de Beaune foundation for distribution amongst their charities.
The wines that are auctioned every year are the unfinished wines from the most recent vintage. They are auctioned by the barrel with each barrel yielding 24 cases of 12 bottles. In 2010 there were 43 different cuvées auctioned off. The maturation of the different barrels of wine following the auction is entrusted to various négociants within Burgundy. Once the wines have completed their maturation, they are bottled under the Hospices de Beaune label, along with the name of the cuvée (named after famous Hospices benefactors), the year and the name and address of the buyer.
The Hospices de Beaune auction forms part of a 3 day annual festival known as the Trois Glorieuses. Since 1924 the Charity auction has taken place on the 3rd Sunday in November. The wines are put up for auction at the market hall in Beaune with buyers from all over the world at the auction itself, on the phone or on the internet. Since 2005 the auction has been organised by Christie's.
For those in the wine trade, the Hospices de Beaune sale has become a barometer of the wine trade’s perception of the quality of the newest Burgundy vintage. As such, it sets the expectations for the prices that Burgundies from that vintage will demand from buyers around the world.
Certainly the 2007 reds are not big, muscular wines and the best were made with a gentle hand. Now that the all-important, softening malolactic fermentations are over (they were particularly slow and late because the portion of malic acid is high in 2007, and early 2008 was especially cool), the best reds have very pretty textures. Since last summer they have been tasting better and better and, with gentle tannins and acid levels that are not exceptionally aggressive, they are already a delight to taste. Acid levels in some reds even seemed a bit low to my palate, and some producers deliberately used more whole bunches than usual in an attempt to retain acidity, but the much longer growing season than usual seems to have built fresh, expressive flavours in the best of them.
The most frequently cited similar vintage is 2000, although, as Sylvain Cathiard of Vosne-Romanée (whose 2007s are particularly sumptuous) maintains, the fruit is a little fresher in general than in 2000. For Christophe Roumier they are more precise than the 2000s, which were also initially underestimated and have been so friendly over the last few years.
Jancis Robinson MW
Anthony Hanson MW, International Consultant of Christie’s for the sale, commented:
Superb work in vineyards and vathouse has resulted in great quality at the Domaine des Hospices de Beaune in 2007. In addition, international demand for Burgundy wines is very strong. The production was down compared to 2006, adding a scarcity value to the new wines. The beautiful quality has brought in many new enthusiasts, collectors and connoisseurs.
Anthony Hanson MW, notes ON THE HOSPICES DE BEAUNE
The 2007 growing season in Burgundy’s vineyards got off to an excellent start. Sunshine and high temperatures in April 2007 encouraged rapid growth. May continued warm and dry,allowing the flowering of the vines to take place early, around 20th May. This is always beneficial to quality, as it allows for an
early vintage, and for growers to wait for optimal moments to harvest, without running undue risks from deteriorating, autumn weather.
June, July and August then proved to be cooler and wetter than normal, with sunshine often missing. I will not dwell on the summer weather, as it caused much concern, and vigilance was needed in the vineyards, to prevent powdery and downy mildew damaging vines or fruit. Progress in viticulture at the Hospices de Beaune 22 differerent growers (vignerons) cultivate about 2.5 hectares
each of the Hospices de BeauneDomaine, each being responsible for one, or more, Cuvees. Over recent years, under the instructions of Manager (Regisseur) Roland Masse, the growers have been moving progressively towards organic viticulture. Natural, instead of synthesized, products are adopted (sulphur and copper sulphate sprays) to fight mildew. Weedkillers are being replaced by ploughing, and anti-rot treatments reduced, or eliminated. It takes time for the
vineyards to adapt to these new cultivation methods, and to build up their own defences, but excellent results are now being seen, to accompany the environmental benefits.
As we witnessed in previous years, a careful watch was kept on yields, which were controlled in 2007 by combinations of pruning, de-budding, shoot-thinning, green-harvesting and the elimination of less-than-perfect fruit.
Wine-making: Red Wines
All red grapes were cooled, prior to the start of fermentation, to approx. 11-15 degrees Celsius, to aid extraction of fine purple colour and aromas, and to avoid a too-rapid start to the fermentations. This cold-soaking lasted on average 2- 4 days, to be followed by fermentation and maceration for another 10-12 days. Regular, gentle punchings-down (pigeage)took place in 2007, during the second half of the maceration period , on average twice per day. This was more extensive than in 2006, thanks to the fine health of the 2007 grapes.
Thanks to good levels of ripeness in the Pinot Noir skins, colouring matter, aromas and flavours moved rapidly into the fermenting juice. Length of vatting times was less on Cuvées like Auxey-Duresses, Monthelie or Savigny (total approximately 11-13 days) and more on the Grands Crus (approximately 14-17 days).
The press wines for each cuvée of reds, after careful tasting, were incorporated before the wines were run off into barrels. So, what we taste is what we get.
As explained in the Introduction to the 2007 Vintage, there is a wider range of quality across the Hospices de Beaune red wine cuvées than we saw in previous years. Two or three wines have shrivelled berry, grey-rot aromas (botrytis), but these are almost imperceptible, and careful tending – for instance, a fining with yeast-shells – will work to dissipate them.
By contrast, the 2007 red wines show greater consistency of clean, healthy, attractive fruitiness than we saw in 2006. Added to which, the 2007 tannins are ample yet soft, and the acidities (prior to malo-lactic fermentations) give no cause for concern. Five cuvées have been run off into “one-year” oak barrels, the balance into new oak.
These wines are harmoniously structured, their hallmark being a classic, vivacious red Burgundy fruitiness. There are examples which will mature relatively early – where fruit and finesse are to the fore. There are others where impressive structures, dense, ripe fruitiness and complex after-tastes announce many decades of the finest complexities.
2007 Volnay-Santenots 1er Cru Cuvée Gauvain
Rich purple-garnet in colour, with very pretty, crushed strawberry aromas, and fine spiciness from new oak. This is a rich, soft, beautifully balanced wine, with finely textured soft tannins on the finish.
2007 Beaune 1er Cru Cuvée Guigone de Salins
Red-purple of medium depth, the nose being fine, ripe, rich and opulent. This is a richly structured wine with plenty of stuffing in mid-palate, and racy, elegant, fine aftertaste. Undoubtedly one of the top Beaunes in 2007.
2007 Corton Grand Cru Cuvée Docteur Peste
Half of the Corton Dr. Peste vineyards face southwards, catching maximum sunshine. The balance have a classic, south-easterly, Corton exposure. Added concentration has been brought to this wine in 2007 – as was the case in 2006 – by eliminating some grapes from the low-lying Fiètre plot of Corton, which used to be included.
The wine is deep, purple-red in colour, with exuberant, fragrant, eau-de-vie de Kirsch aromas, pungent and complex. It is a beautifully structured, rich wine, of exceptional fruit concentration, well-ripened, gentle tannins and impressive length. Surely one of the greatest 2007 Cuvées in the cellar, showing magnificent potential.
Anthony Hanson MW
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