Despite the lowest number of barrels going under the hammer in 15 years, the 2021 Hospices de Beaune charity auction broke per-barrel price records, reaching an impressive total sales figure of €12.5m (£10.48m/$14.09m), excluding buyer premiums.
The total was not too far behind last year’s high tally – close to €13.44 million – where almost double the number of barrels were sold.
This year’s sale, with 362 lots, including seven barrels of spirits, reached an average price per lot of €34,980 (£29.335/$39,408).
In 2020, 638 lots sold for an average of €21,690, which represents an increase of over 60% of the price per lot this year. Two barrels of Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru, Cuvée Dames de Flandres 2021, each doubled their top estimate, selling for €248,200 and €221,400 respectively.
Fifty different cuvées of 33 red and 17 white wines amounted to 294 red wine barrels (including two half barrels), compared to 474 last year, and to 57.5 barrels of white (including three half barrels), compared to 156 in 2020.
Pièce des Présidents
The star of the show proved to be the ‘Pièce des Présidents’, set apart from the rest of the auction as its proceeds go towards specific charities.
Participants clapped to the song Respect by Aretha Franklin after Mattia Tabacco of OenoGroup, a London-based wine company, bid a whopping €800,000 (£671k/ $902k) for this year’s 228-litre barrel, the Corton Renardes Grand Cru, beating the €660,000 record for the Pièce des Présidents set last year.
In addition to raising funds to invest in medical equipment and modernising hospital buildings managed by the Hospices Civils de Beaune, this year’s Pièce des Présidents will help organisations championing women’s causes: ‘Solidarité Femmes’, represented by French actress Jeanne Balibar to end violence against women, and ‘Institut Curie’, represented by actor Pio Marmaï, who encouraged bidders with much bravado, to benefit research against breast cancer.
Balibar, who earlier this year shared experiences as a victim of sexual harassment, struck a sombre tone the day of the sale for many domestic violence victims. ‘They too often wait for the violence to end, but it never does,’ she said.
Solidarité Femmes’ general director Françoise Brié, who monitors a Council of Europe convention to stop violence against women, praised the ‘extraordinary result’ ahead of the UN Day for the elimination of violence against women on 25th November.
The auction featured so few barrels because bad weather had cut yields to the lowest levels in Burgundy since 1981, according to Frédéric Drouhin, president of the Burgundy Wine Council (BIVB).
Three successive nights of frost in April combined with summer rainfall that led to downy and powdery mildew and botrytis contributed to the low yields. Hospices de Beaune wine director Ludivine Griveau stressed meticulous sorting. ‘Normally we have six people per sorting table, but this year we had eight to be extra careful, ‘ she said.
Experienced tasters remarked how well the wines from barrel performed. In praising the work of Griveau and her team for the vintage at a press conference the day of the sale, veteran French wine critic Bernard Burtschy called the Hospice’s Clos de la Roche the ‘best’ he has ever tasted.
Michael Apstein, Burgundy wine writer and Decanter contributor, appreciated the freshness, acidity and concentration of many wines tasted before the sale. ‘Far better than the biblical plague like vintage description suggests,’ he said.
Prices defy gravity
Auction results reflect sky-scraping price trends from Burgundy, with low quantities in 2021 putting further pressure on prices. For example, producer Anne Parent of Domaine Parent in Pommard says that ‘we are going to have the best November ever’ for sales, as importers are buying back vintages, given concern over lower stocks with the 2021 vintage.
Reflecting higher auction bids per barrel than last year, merchants like Jeremy Stockman, managing director of Watson’s Wine in Hong Kong and China, says that higher prices are not deterring his consumers from buying more Burgundy. ‘Limited volumes seem to fuel the desire across all price points.’ he said.
Shaun Bishop of JJ Buckley Fine Wines in California said: ‘Our clients have not deviated much from historical purchasing habits: They buy mostly Grand Cru and Premier Cru, and the combination of less supply and a general appetite for more expensive wines have kept their purchasing habits more or less the same.’
Sales statistics over the first nine months of this year confirm the rosy picture. The BIVB reports record-breaking increases by both revenue and volume for exports during the first nine months of 2021. The nearly €957m (£804m and $1.08b) in revenues is the highest ever for that period of time compared to previous years. And the nearly 79m bottles (75o ml) exported in that period also topped previous years on record.
Even price conscious buyers ‘want Burgundy and Burgundy alone,’ says Ben Giliberti, wine educator for Calvert Woodley importer in Washington D.C. Instead of seeking less expensive substitutes from other regions ‘they are trading down among appellations, such as high quality village level instead of pricier Premier Cru.’