2020 – Second highest result ever for Hospices de Beaune auction

By Panos Kakaviatos – Harpers UK

The 160th Hospices de Beaune charity wine auction, held one month later than expected due to Covid concerns, reached its second-best result ever of €13,4m (£12,2m), excluding the buyer’s premium. 

Although not as impressive as the €14.2m record sale from the 2018 auction, this year’s sale broke the record for bids on the Pièce des Présidents, a single 228-litre barrel of wine whose sale benefits a specific charity each year. 

The Clos de la Roche Grand Cru went under the hammer for €660,000 to Maison Albert Bichot and an unnamed Chinese client. Proceeds benefit French front line hospital staff and their families who have been affected by Covid-19. Two additional donations were made by private clients allowing the Hospital Federation of France to collect a total sum of €780,000 for that cause. 

The previous record of €480,000 (£339,713) for a barrel of Corton Renardes Grand Cru was achieved at the 2015 auction, whose sale in part aided victims of the Paris terror attacks that had taken place just before that auction.

Hospices de Beaune director Ludivine Griveau selected old vine plots from the Les Froichots climate in the Clos de la Roche Grand Cru plot in the Côte de Nuits for the wine. The specially labelled oak used to make the barrel came from grand cru oak grown in the Loire Valley’s Domaine de Chambord forest, which is especially ideal for oak barrel production.

The epidemic itself broke another auction record as offsite bidders for the 474 barrels of red and 156 barrels of white wine outnumbered for the first time those bidding in person. Christie’s Auction House, which managed the sale, registered 42 customers by phone, 198 customers on a digital platform and 26 placing purchase orders. “We have never had as many online bidders”, said Hospices de Beaune PR director Estelle Bidault. 

To maintain social distance, the Grande Halle de Beaune auction site accommodated only 170 people. In ‘normal’ years, some 500 people pack into the space. Even if bidders were restricted to staying in their numbered seats with minimal movement, the mood proved convivial: “It has been an undoubtedly unforgettable year and the moments experienced at this 160th auction testify to incredible global generosity,” said Griveau.

Nice new average price records were established for lots of the following wines: 

– Bâtard Montrachet Grand Cru Cuvée Dames Des Flandres

– Echézeaux Grand Cru Cuvée Jean-Luc Bissey

– Corton Blanc Grand Cru Cuvée Docteur Peste

– Corton Grand Cru Docteur Peste

– Clos De La Roche Cuvée Cyrot-Chaudron 

– Corton Grand Cru Cuvée Charlotte Dumay

– Pommard Grand Cru – Les Epenots Cuvée Dom Goblet 

– Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru Cuvée Collignon 

– Meursault Premier Cru – Les Genevrières Cuvée Philippe Le Bon

The auction also set a record for the percentage of bidders in Europe at 88%. French bidders alone purchased 509 lots. The rest of the bidders came from Asia (7%), the UK and the US, each at 2% and then just 1% for the “rest of the world”, according to figures released by the Hospices de Beaune. 

Insiders said that the charity auction with bids worldwide reflects enduring interest in Burgundy, even as prices rise for Burgundy wines, and in harder hit markets like the US, where a 25% tariff on wines of up to 14% abv is denting sales. But some merchants, like Jeff Zacharia, of Zachys Wine, headquartered in Westchester, NY, with an international office in Hong Kong, and store in Washington, DC said that the triple threat of Covid, tariffs and shipping delays from Europe have not harmed sales so much: “We’ve seen strong sales across all Burgundy categories – brick and mortar, web, and direct client sales”, he said. 

While statistics released by the Burgundy Wine Council ahead of the auction indicated a 3.9% drop in volume sales and a 9.3% drop by value in the first nine months of 2020 worldwide as compared to the same period last year, Burgundy demand rose over the same period in the UK. 

Despite Brexit concerns, UK sales grew by 11.6%, from 9,972,000 bottles purchased in that period in 2019 to 11,128,000 this year, with a 1.3% increase in value. “Sales in November in the UK have remained “dynamic”, said Cécile Mathiaud of the Burgundy Wine Council. 

Nonetheless ever increasing prices for fine Burgundy has led to secondary market demand shifting from expensive “trophy assets” to more affordable second and third tier growers, according to a recent industry report from Liv-ex. But that means that demand remains in Burgundy, rather than Pinot Noir and Chardonnay substitutes. 

UK merchants, like Charles Lea of Lea & Sandeman, argue that such internal substitution makes sense, given the “dramatically improved” winemaking at all levels from Burgundy. 

“Are you really qualitatively ‘trading down’ if you buy Rully from Dureuil-Janthial rather than anything but top-notch Puligny? Or Givrys from Francois Lumpp rather than anything but top-notch Vosne? – I’d argue not,” he said.