The Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction: Taste the Tradition

Antonio and I wanted to do something truly special for our 10th non-wedding Anniversary. We’ve seen people get married, get divorced, have children, get married again, then go through their second divorce. We work and live together and I think 10 years is a pretty good accomplishment. When our friends Barbara and Vincent messaged us asking if we’d like to join them for dinner the Friday before the wine auction, Antonio made an impulse purchase and bought us tickets to France. Needless to say, I’m kind of excited. I get to celebrate ten years with the man I love in France, AND I get to experience one of the wine world’s most exciting event; the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction.

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I won’t actually get to enjoy the auction since I’m not purchasing a barrel of wine.  That would be 300 bottles of wine, and while I can certainly polish that off in little over a year, I’d have to sell my soul to the devil to afford it. I will get to experience Beaune, its people, and its wines during this exciting time. I’ll give you a little info on the auction so you can see why I am so excited about my trip, and once there, I’ll update you on the details and happenings in the city.

What is the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction?

It’s the most famous charity wine auction in the world. The auction takes place in the city of Beaune which is located in Burgundy, a region of France long-known for producing top-quality French wine including, of course, its namesake: Burgundy wine. Beaune is located in the eastern part of the country and is the wine capital of Burgundy – not to mention the most ideal setting for a wine auction of this distinction.

The Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction Experience

For 153 years, this auction has gathered together wine enthusiasts to take part in the ‘en primeur’ on the third Sunday of each November. Organized by Christie’s, the sale provides buyers with the very special opportunity to obtain the current year’s vintage.

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Typically, bidders select a wine from 46 choices. There are many ways to bid; one can bid by telephone, internet, at the cellar or make out a written bid. Bidders can opt to purchase this French wine by bottles or barrels, depending on their preference. This fine wine has reached the end of its vinification within the hospices winery. Many buyers then entrust the aging process to a professional for the next year to two years to ensure the wine reaches optimal condition prior to bottling.

A Full-Service Auction

Prices include the hammer fee, auctioneer, barrel and more. In fact, the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction is a full-service purchasing experience. Bidders are treated to the traditional auction atmosphere, one that has been perfected over more than a century and conducted by professionals in the field.

A Heart for Humanitarian Causes

Later in the day, the pièce de charité, or charity barrel, also known as the Pièce des Présidents (presidents’ barrel) is auctioned off. In keeping with tradition, this particular portion of the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction takes place by candlelight, just as it did back in 1945 when the charity portion began.  What makes the traditional event even more meaningful is the fact that all proceeds support one or more humanitarian charities. In 2010, the pièce de charité raised $400,000 for worthy causes.

Other funds raised support the Hospices de Beaune itself. While the majority of proceeds are directed to the hospital in order to maintain infrastructure and further medical treatments, other funds go towards the vineyards and preserving heritage. The benefits for buyers are twofold: leaving their mark on a long-standing charitable tradition and the delicious pleasure found in Burgundy wine.

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Hospices De Beaune History

A former almshouse, the Hospices de Beaune (then the The Hôtel-Dieu) was founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, the Chancellor of the Duke of Burgundy, and his wife Guigone de Salin. This was the time after the Hundred Year’s War which had just ended in 1435 with the Treaty of Arras. The people of Beaune were poor and starving. The hospital was set up by Rolin and his wife to bring much needed medical care to the people of Beaune. As time passed, gifts were made to the Hospices, and the estate grew. Jean Pamplays and his wife made the first gift of the Hospices de Beaune. It was the vineyards. The first auction took place in 1859.

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The Museum

The original Hôtel-Dieu building is now a museum, and the Hospices de Beaune’s medical care has been moved to much larger, modern facilities. It is a true Medieval masterpiece, famous for the splendor of its courtyard,  its mulitcolored roof, and glazed tiles. When you visit Beaune, you simply must go to the Hôtel-Dieu museum.

It’s most well known treasure is the altarpiece of the Last Judgment by Rogier van der Weyden. It’s impressive. The polyptic (a painting made of various panels) is 7×18 feet (HUGE). It was commissioned by Nicolas Rolin for the Hôtel-Dieu. At the time, most people who went to the hospital probably died, so you can just imagine how these dying people felt when they looked at the altarpiece.  The altarpiece depicts Christ, accompanied by the heavenly court, including the archangel Michael who weighs the souls to decide who will get into the kingdom of heaven. You also get to experience the suffering of the sinners, their expressions are simply ghastly. I’m not sure it would be something I’d want to see on my deathbed, but it is a splendid piece to see now.

It costs only €7 to get in, so don’t miss out.

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I am one of the co-founders of FriendsEAT. Obviously, I love to eat. Other passions include A Song of Ice and Fire, Shakespeare, Dostoyevski, and Aldous Huxley.
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