In what François Poher, director and chairman of the Board of Hospices Civils de Beaune, dubbed ‘historic and spectacular results’, the auction broke other records, including highest ever total for a charity wine auction and record total for any wine auction held by Sotheby’s, according to the auction house that managed the sale.
The average price per barrel sold over Sunday’s seven-hour auction also reached a new high, at €35,974 topping last year’s record-setting average price per lot of €34,980. Indeed, social media was buzzing with news of pre-sale estimates being surpassed by over 100%. Five barrels of Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru, Cuvée Dames des Flandres, for example sold for €324,000 each, more than double the pre-sale high estimate.
Proceeds from the auction, which supports the upkeep of the Hospices Civils de Beaune’s hospitals, came from the sale of 802 barrels, divided into 620 red wine lots and 182 white, the highest number of lots since 828 barrels had been auctioned in 2018.
Following the challenging 2021 vintage, early buzz for the sunny and dry 2022 vintage likely contributed to very strong prices. At a press conference the morning before the sale, respected French wine critic Bernard Burtschy proclaimed that there was ‘no doubting the high quality of 2022,’. He called this the ‘culmination’ of greater precision in the vat room and vineyards of the 60-hectare Hospices domain since director Ludivine Griveau took over direction in 2015. ‘This is the best vintage at the Hospices’, Burtschy said.
The auction also broke records for the special charity lot known as the Presidents’ barrel or ‘Pièce des Présidents’’, which sold for €810,000, beating the record set last year (€800,000). Made collectively by a group of Burgundy négociant houses – Badet Clément, Albert Bichot, Groupe Boisset, Bouchard Père & Fils, Champy, Chanson, Joseph Drouhin, Faiveley, Louis Jadot, Olivier Leflaive, Patriarche and Veuve Ambal – the bid ‘paid homage’ to the late Louis-Fabrice Latour, who passed away in September this year, said Pierre Gernelle, managing director of the Fédération des Négociants Eleveurs de Grande Bourgogne. Latour, former director of négociant house Maison Louis Latour, was a leading figure in Burgundy and loyal supporter of the auction.
The 228-litre barrel, ageing at Maison Louis Latour, blends three of the Domaine des Hospice de Beaune’s terroirs: Corton Renardes, Corton Bressandes and Corton Chaumes. Proceeds from the charity lot will benefit two organisations that help children: the Princesse Margot association, which assists children afflicted by cancer and the World Vision organisation, which helps children in poverty.
Tailed by television cameras, French journalist and writer Flavie Flament generated much excitement descending the auction rostrum to seated bidders, beckoning them to increase bids for the Presidents’ barrel.
Tasting the wines one day before the sale, the general impression was one of ripe but not overripe reds with impressive structure, and fleshy whites with fine dry extract and breadth.
Cooler terroirs, with deeper soils are generally more successful in the vintage, which boasts lower-than-average acidity and natural alcohol levels between 13.5 and 14%, remarked oenoligist Sébastien Lecomte, deputy director for the Hospices. To help maintain freshness, the estate harvested early in the morning and stored incoming grapes in refrigerated containers, which was important for aromatic freshness, Lecomte explained. Yields – about 40 hectolitres per hectare for the reds and 45 for the whites – are high in 2022, although not as high as in 2018. Most grapes harvested in excellent conditions over a three-week period from 25 August to 16 September were healthy as workers discarded at most four per cent of the grapes on sorting tables.
George Lacey, Sotheby’s head of wine for Asia, praised director Griveau for managing to retain ‘some mouth watering acidity married with richness and glossiness of the fruit’. While many whites showed fleshy, peachy characteristics the most successful also displayed zip. For example, the Meursault Premier Cru Les Charmes Bahezre de Lanlay was favourably compared to the Meursault Premier Cru Les Charmes Albert Grivault. Indeed, Lecomte confirmed ‘a bit more acidity’ in the former wine, which servers dubbed ‘very popular’.
During the press conference before the sale, Ludivine Griveau stressed the importance of June, during which three bouts of rain – as much as 100mm in Gevrey Chambertin – restored water reserves to what she called ‘acceptable levels’, which likely explains why the vines were resistant until harvest time. Indeed, Burgundy expert Jasper Morris MW said: ‘Had those rains not arrived, I think there would have been serious problems for the vintage.’
The contrast with 2021 was clear for most who tasted the wines. ‘In 2021, I didn’t need to go to my dentist for a teeth cleaning,’ remarked wine writer Michael Apstein in comparing it to the friendlier 2022. Morris said that the 2022 vintage recalled the 1999s: ‘You get impressive structure, but at this stage the ripe fruit covers it, and yet we do not encounter any over-ripeness that we could see in some wines from 2018, 2019 and 2020.’