Last week we spoke about the history of the Hospices de Beaune. This week I would like to go deeper into the customs surrounding the auction itself, and the recent turbulence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Hospices de Beaune wine auction is both the world’s oldest charity wine auction, and a cultural touchstone for the Burgundy wine trade. This year, 2022, will be the 162nd edition of the auction.
The auction itself takes up only a single evening, but the events surrounding it are orchestrated to bring together the growers, negociants, eleveurs, critics, and aficionados who make and make up Burgundy. The auction is bookended by two social events, and the three are collectively known as Les Trois Glorieuses. Even if you are not so lucky as to be part of the closed events of Les Trois Glorieuses, the walled city of Beaune is transformed into a grand street festival with fun for all comers.
The opening event is a meeting of the Brotherhood of the Tastevin, a society dedicated to promoting and propagating the traditions of Burgundy, celebrated in a spectacular dinner in the Chateau du Clos de Vougeot. The closing event is a lively, though less ceremonial, luncheon where each winemaker brings bottles to pass as they celebrate the conclusion of the harvest season and another auction, known as the Paulée de Meursault.
The year 2020, two years ago, would have been dramatic enough just because of the grapes - a hot spell and drought in Burgundy were quite challenging to the growers. But the impact of COVID-19 on the Hospices de Beaune event challenged every tradition. The event itself was postponed from the traditional third Sunday in November, the tastings were subdued and straitened, the festival and Les Trois Glorieuses were canceled entirely, and the auction itself was done remotely - although thankfully, both the wine and the monies raised for charity did not fall below expectations. The tradition, however, teetered on the brink of cancellation.
For 2021, after the previous year’s experience of a half-remote event, an uncomfortable and difficult tasting, but with increased clarity from regulators and guests about what would make an event safe to attend, the event returned from the brink with all determined to re-launch an experience that would return the event to prominence and keep the flame burning strong.
In the summer of 2021, over a glass of Burgundy (a Chambolle-Musigny by my memory), as we worked to bring together the elements of our new project in California, we decided that the launching of our Pinot Noir should be accompanied by the re-launching of the greatest institution of Burgundy, and we decided to journey to Beaune in the fall and accompany our first vintage of California Pinot Noir with Burgundian, tying the old world to the new.
The auction is not open to all comers; rather, we must secure an invitation and establish our bona fides. The wines of the Hospices must be finished in Burgundy, and so we contacted our friends in France and made sure we would have a place to finish our wine should we manage to find and secure a cru to bring home to you. Finally, we arranged the journey: allowing time for the barrel tasting beforehand, strategizing about our auction targets, and the auction itself.
I am excited simply remembering it! The story of our auction night is thrilling and I hope you will join me next week to hear the story and learn more about what we will be bringing you from Burgundy alongside our 2021 California Pinot Noir release.