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Hospices de Beaune sales nudge record despite less wine

The Hospices de Beaune, the world’s oldest charity wine auction, made a massive €4.29m at the weekend – 27% more than last year, and for less wine.

The record for sales at the Hospices remains that of the Millennium vintage in 2000, which made €5,272,657.

The success of the auction – which has been held every year in Burgundy since 1859 – was despite French train strikes, doubts about the 2007 vintage quality and fears of overpricing.

The auction took place over the weekend, 17 and 18 November.

UK buyer James Rackham of Emporia Brands, who bought two barrels – a Volnay premier cru for €4,200 and a Meursault for €7,000 – said prices were up overall for the grand crus.

‘You could see the bids coming in from three directions, the salesroom, the phone lines and the internet, but there were still some good values to be had,’ he added.

The higher prices paid at this year’s auction, particularly for the reds which were up 38% in value, are a reflection of growing international demand for red Burgundy, said Anthony Hanson, Christie’s international wine consultant.

Another factor was the high quality of the vintage, despite weather-related mildew and rot outbreaks which reduced harvest volumes by up to 30%.

Held annually in Beaune and now in its 147th year, the auction sells Burgundy by the barrel from vineyards owned by the local Hospice, an ancient charitable hospital. Each barrel, locally known as a ‘pièce’, holds 228 litres or 288 bottles of wine.

The bulk of the auction proceeds are used to maintain hospice and hospital facilities, but every year the sale of one barrel – known as the President’s Barrel – is used to help a range of other French charities.

This year the selected barrel, a Beaune premier cru, was bought for €65,000 by David Murray. One of Scotland’s richest men, Murray – who bought a Burgundy vineyard, Domaine Jessiaume, in November last year – is also chairman of Rangers football team.

He got a bargain compared to the €200,000 paid last year by Jacques Rouvroy, director of Belvedere a French wine and spirits distribution company.

A total of 607 barrels were sold this year, compared to last year’s 680 barrels, which went for a total of €3.8m.

Buyers were able to bid over the internet for the first time this year. Hanson said there was ‘sustained interest from the web’ throughout the sale. The first Hospices de Beaune barrel sold over the web was a Pommard premier cru that went for €4,500.

Written by Sophie Kevany in Burgundy

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