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Hospices: cautious optimism despite lack of private bidders

Cautious enthusiasm is the verdict from Burgundy on the first Hospices de Beaune to be run by Christie’s.

The 145th auction in the ancient town of Beaune made €5.08m, compared to €3.03m last year. It should be noted that in 2004, prices in general were 30% down on the previous year – and also that 2005 is being heralded as one of the great vintages, far higher in quality than 2004.

The majority of the take came from 647 barrels of red wine and 142 barrels of white wine, from this year’s harvest in the vineyard holdings of the Hospices de Beaune, a charitable institution.

Amongst the highlights, Christie’s said, were Bâtard-Montrachet, Cuvée de Flandres barrels fetching €65,923 each, and Clos de la Roche, Cuvée Georges Kritter barrels which sold for over €20,000 each.

Anthony Hanson, senior consultant to Christie’s International Wine Department, said they were pleased with the amount of international buyers that either came in person or sent telephone bids. This is the first year that buyers can bid direct without having to go through a negociant.

‘We had telephone bids from Asia, the US and the rest of Europe. Lots of people rang me up and we talked through the cuvees.’

Hanson said, ‘We would certainly be keen to continue doing the auction.’

However, in Burgundy the mood might have been optimistic, but it was not buoyant. Bernard Repolt, managing director of Remoissenet Pere et Fils, was slightly disappointed that there were not more international buyers, but said involving Christie’s was ‘a good idea.’

‘The buyers were the same as last year – mainly local people – so there wasn’t much change in terms of input. We were expecting much more interest from private buyers. But the Hospices was pleased with the result.’

Repolt added that the fact of the excellent vintage was the saving grace of the auction this year.

Benoit Goujon of Corton Andre, one of Burgundy’s biggest negociants, which bought 117 barrels at the auction, said he was ‘very glad’ to see Christie’s there.

He suggested there were several reasons why there was a not huge increase in prices on last year – notably the fact that negociants are still selling 2001, 02 and 04.

‘The market is saying we appreciate the quality of 2005 but as we have a lot of inventory in our cellars, we’re not going to go crazy.’

Goujon fully supported Christie’s in its role as auctioneer, suggesting as a specialist in auctioning old wines it would take time to work up expertise in selling barrel wine. He also pointed out the house had only three months in which to prepare: its role was finalised at the end of the summer.

‘If they had had more time they would have brought a lot more people in.’

Beaune newspaper Le Bien Public also drew attention the relative lack of foreign buyers, and questioned Christie’s ability to pull the right kind of affluent collectors.

Alexander Nall, managing director of Louis Latour in London said, ‘I am sure that lessons will be learnt from this first year under the new arrangement in order to improve and develop the auction into more of a world wide event.’

What is certain is that the prices fetched will go some way to shielding Burgundy producers from the accusations of greed in setting prices that bedevil Bordeaux proprietors.

Goujon said, ‘This sends the signal that Burgundy can make a great vintage, with reasonable prices.’

While most of the wines were sold to merchants in France and abroad, private buyers included Geddy Lee of Canadian rock band Rush and American restaurateurs and private buyers, including a bidding ring organised by members of the forum on erobertparker.com.

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Written by Adam Lechmere

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