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Hospices de Beaune takes tastings to China

Organisers of the annual Hospices de Beaune auction are woong Chinese buyers for the first time with local tastings of the Burgundies slated for sale on 21 November.

In anticipation of its 150th sale, the Hospices de Beaune and Christie’s – which has managed the sale since 2005 – have added Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei to the cities hosting preview tastings before the auctions in Beaune on 21 November.

While Chinese buyers’ preference for red wine ‘continues to develop,’ said Alain Suguenot, MP and mayor of Beaune, their knowledge of Burgundy remains poor.

‘It’s true the Chinese market has not followed Burgundy en masse, as it has Bordeaux,’ said Charles Curtis MW, head of North American wine sales for Christie’s.

‘It is a difficult category for the new wine drinker to wrap their head around. But the leading collectors are both passionate and interested, and will influence others. It will be a gold rush once they discover it.’

Curtis noted that although Asian buyers accounted for 10% of the €5m revenue from last year’s Hospices de Beaune sale, he doesn’t expect marked upward pressure on this year’s prices – even with the tastings in China.

‘The barriers to entry [for buying wine at the Hospices auction] are high,’ he points out.

‘You must commit to a barrel, find an eleveur, choose your bottling and wait two years. It will be a few years before the concept takes off significantly.’

Other experts agree the learning curve will be steep. Fongyee Walker, a Beijing-based wine educator and consultant told Decanter.com, ‘My first reaction is that the market is generally too young for this kind of initiative, but it would be an interesting development because at present understanding of Burgundy and its wines is limited among the mainland Chinese.’

The auction will be guest-hosted by two actors – France’s Fabrice Luchini, presiding on behalf of cancer charity AVEC – and China’s Liu Ye, on behalf of Climats du vignoble de Bourgogne.

The latter, led by Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanee Conti, seeks recognition of Burgundy terroir as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Roland Messe, winemaker for the Domaine des Hospices de Beaune, confirmed that this year’s sale would feature 45 cuvees – 32 red and 13 white – with fewer than the 799 barrels offered in 2009, due to lower yields.

Other new cities hosting tastings include Boston, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles.

Written by Maggie Rosen

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