There comes a time every so often when the loneliness of the long distance marriage becomes too apparent. Any distraction is good, so I arranged with an acquaintance to go into Beaune so I could see what was going on during the wine auction weekend and feel somehow part of the festivities even if I wasn’t invited to any of the events.
The centre of Beaune was full of something akin to a Christmas market – lots of food and craft stalls, live music in the band stands and from wandering musicians, all the shops, restaurants and bars open, and once it was dark there were the same illuminations on the historic buildings as over the summer.
If you wanted to taste wines (as opposed to drink at a bar), you’d have to go to the specific wine houses or to the Palais des Congrès, or the pre-auction tasting as a buyer.
We went to the Halles where a screen showed what was happening inside at the wine auction. This was actually more interesting to watch than you’d think – not the whole thing, obviously, just a bit of the lead up and then the main charity auction. Or maybe I was just so happy to be out.
The person I was with has lived here for many, many years and knows a fair amount about tourism in the area. She told me what was going on, and I asked questions with the tenacity of a child who has to get right to the bottom of it. When I got confused by some of the answers, she explained louder – it’s sort of reassuring to know that If in doubt – shout is not just a British habit. If anyone else there wasn’t sure what was going on… well, they may have remained as unsure as I was, but they would have been able to pick up a few things.
So from the explanations, watching it myself and looking up a few things online, I can now say with a fair amount of confidence (but don’t hold me to it) that:
– the wines sold are only from the Hospices de Beaune vineyards.
– the vineyards they own come from charitable donations and bequests over many, many years.
– the ‘cuvée’ sold usually takes the name of the person who made the vineyard donation.
– the lots are sold by the barrel (about 300 bottles).
– although there is trade purchase, especially for restaurants, much wine sold at the auction nowadays is sold directly to individuals. This is partly due to the opening up of the auction since Christies took it on but also because of the high prices the auctions now fetch.
– in addition to the bid price bid, there is a whopping 35% additional taxes and charges.
– after buying the barrel, you need your chosen wine maker to make then bottle the wine. This carries its own costs.
– the bottle must carry the special Hospices label with its required information, including the name of the buyer. Some personalisation is possible.
– to attend the auction in the Halles you need to be a guest of a négociant/winemaker, but you can pre-register privately online as a buyer.
– all money from all lots save one, goes to the Hospices which is a non-profit organisation. The Hospice pay for the care of the vineyards, harvest etc, the upkeep of the ancient Hospice de Beaune building, and also, in keeping with the original ethos, towards those in need at the new hospital and retirement home.
– the one lot of which the proceeds go elsewhere is termed the charity lot/auction. The beneficiaries are different each year and there are normally 2 separate charities chosen. For this lot, celebrities representing the charities attend and do all possible to goad the audience into increasing their bids. This year a new record was made at 220,000 € for the one barrel. This auction is held in the traditional candle way, whereby when the last candle has burned down the auction ends – this felt like a surprisingly long time as there were many long pauses, but it did give the celebrities time to play a role.
– after the main charity lot is sold, the auction continues but with lesser growths and the bidding becomes far quicker and the prices are a lot lower.
– Les Trois Glorieuses are commenced with a big dinner at the Chateau du Clos de Vougeot, held by the Confrerie du Tastevin and their guests on the Saturday, the auction on the Sunday and the Paulée de Meursault lunch for winemakers plus invited guests.
Phew, I think that’s about it on the subject.
Afterwards, we went for a walk around the town and saw a cellar which was exceptionally open as a bistrot for the festivities, but which is actually part of an ancient church and has a roman wall at the end of it.
On the edges of the town an ambulant band passed us, only a couple of the drummers still beating a retreat pace out of there; all of them looking tired and bedraggled after a whole afternoon of walking and playing in the light rain. It was a delightful scene: dressed as clowns, grim expressions, no longer playing their instruments only the drums to clear a path for themselves among the crowds and so get out quicker, and several of them with a lit cigarette drooping from the side of their mouth.
At some point of the weekend there was one of the Retraite à Flambeaux that seem to be de rigeur at local festivals. I didn’t want to be around for that. It must be my long love of horror movies, but I can’t watch a crowd of locals bearing torches without wondering which house is going to be torched, who has been trapped in the straw man, and whether they may be coming for me.
I’m still here, so it wasn’t my turn. Not this year anyway.