As the Hospices de Beaune weekend gets into gear there is a good deal of speculation as to the outcome of tomorrow’s auction.

Amateur buyers and professionals alike say there are any very good reasons why prices for the 2008 vintage in barrel could be down on 2007 – and equally good ones for them to rise.

On the one hand, with yields down by a quarter, buyers will be chasing far less wine than normal. On the other, the world financial situation is hardly conducive to wild bidding in any auction room.

Anthony Hanson, senior wine consultant at Christie’s, which has run the annual barrel auction for the last four years, told decanter.com there are two types of buyers in Beaune this weekend.

‘There are the people who come every year, who go for the best wines possible. And then there are those who have come because they think prices will settle back to 2006 levels after the increase last year.’

Regular buyers tasting in the Hotel-Dieu this morning had various predictions.

‘My instinct is that prices will be similar or lower,’ Alex Mironesco, a banker, said. He agreed there is much less wine, but said it would be well to remember that as the Hospices auction is seen as a barometer for the price of the vintage, ‘the big negociants – Bouchard, Drouhin, Jadot – will not allow the prices to drop too much.’

Hanson said volume is down due mainly to mildew and hail damage which necessitated rigorous selection both in the vineyard and in the cellar. ‘This is the smallest harvest for the last 21 years – 20 to 25% down.’

There will be 544 barrels on sale tomorrow, compared with 607 in 2007.

He also said that – despite the fact American buyers seem to have stayed away this year – there were many more customers in the tasting rooms. At the main Christie’s preview in the Hotel-Dieu this morning he said there were 60-70% more people. ‘We had to lay on two tastings to fit them all in.’

For his part, Hospices chief winemaker Roland Masse was sceptical. ‘I don’t know if the private buyers will feel like putting money into wine this year. The economy is already in recession, but it’s hard to know if the wine market has entered it. I’m hoping we haven’t gone into recession yet – and that tomorrow will go well.’

As for the quality of the vintage, commentators are guardedly positive. Writing in Beaune newspaper Le Bien Public, Hanson said, ‘the wines are clean and ripe with attractive structure and good fruit density, as well as balanced tannins.’

He said, ‘The only problem with this vintage is that it hasn’t been able to make a name for itself, such is the preoccupation with the financial crisis.’

And he added, ‘All we need to do now is enthuse the buyers.’

Written by Adam Lechmere in Beaune