It was roughly 19h45 when I quit the salesroom of the 159th Hospices de Beaune wine auction – the sale didn’t actually finish until about 21h15 as there remained the small matter of almost 100 more lots to get through, but the writing was on the wall – records are made to be broken.
As a starting point, there was less wine for sale in 2019 versus 2018 – this was simply a question of the lower 2019 yields – 589 barrels of 2019 going under the hammer, down from 828 in 2018, including 118 barrels of white wine and 471 of red. A lower volume, but the early word on the quality of the 2019 vintage was positive, however, tasting was complicated. Those who tasted earlier in the week loved the wines, but those who tasted from Thursday onwards, when the weather turned much colder, were met with tight, often dissociated wines – would that change the minds of potential purchasers?
It seemed not.
The dynamics of the sale are interesting to watch – the major buyers often starting the bidding, but with much discipline, rarely offering even €100 more for a barrel when outbid. Except for poor old Frederic Drouhin, where discipline goes out of the window for certain lots; Drouhin traditionally buy all of the Beaune 1er Cuvée Maurice Drouhin – though plenty in the room still bid against him – so his barrel prices slowly crept up to over €11,000 for a barrel – probably it’s a game!
And the barrel prices? The first wine in the sale is traditionally the Beaune 1er Dames Hospitalières and it really strated the ball rolling in strong fashion – €13,000 a barrel. Outside of ‘show lots’ – such as the President’s Barrel of Corton for €260,000! – the prices were still often double the 2019 bulk prices. Despite the low volumes, reds were selling for nearly 8 percent more than in 2018 and the whites going for a ripping 18 percent more (with 100 lots still to go). So with the volume down by nearly 30%, I didn’t really expect the total from last year to be challenged – but it was looking closer than I expected. Prices have, on the whole, risen every year since 2016, though many 2019 prices still lag behind the exuberance of 2015.
I asked one of the most important purchasers (volume-wise) of the sale, Alberic Bichot, if he was happy with the prices tonight, to which he answered, “I’m very happy for the hospital!”
And the weekend itself? The usual fare, an untold number of defenceless garlics were killed, merely to sit on plates with snails…