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The ‘old cuverie’

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A walk around the old ramparts of Beaune will eventually bring you behind the Hospices de Beaune and what looks like a (very steep) ramp to a loading-bay, the buildings, if not the ramp, are fashioned to look rather old. A sneaky peek around the gardens of the, still active, retirement home attached to the Hôtel Dieu seemed to indicate that the Pavillion St.Anne was the other side of the loading bay. I decided to investigate.

You can actually order a guide who can give you a tour of the old cellars, not just the ‘Hospices’ itself, but you should pre-book and ensure that they know what you want to see: hospices.beaune@ch-beaune.fr

It was my guide, Annie who told me that the Pavillion St.Anne was actually the old maternity building of the Hospices – in full use until 1963. The new hospital in Beaune was only ready in 1971, so from 63-71 they used ‘temporary’ buildings in the courtyard. She said that people are still really proud to have been born in the Hospices – and the class of 63-71 didn’t anyway realise they were born in a pre-fab! I asked Annie if she’d been born in the Hospices, to which she replied “No, but I was born in Beaune, and some of my cousins were born here. My Auntie, who is still alive, told me the story of her, with her husband, banging on the doors of the Hospices late one night in 1959. After much unlocking of doors a nun appeared, saw her condition, and then led her across the courtyards of the Hôtel Dieu to the Pavillion St.Anne.” Despite the tourist status of the buildings, even back in the 1950s, this little vignette really brings home that this was still a place in the service of the people of Beaune…

Anyway, I was a little sad to find out that the imposing Pavillion St.Anne was not actually the old cuverie of the Hospices de Beaune, rather, the largely nondescript building to its side – oh well! Once, the distillery of the Hospices was also here, in the courtyard and open to the elements, producing the Marc de Bourgogne that is also a part of the Hospices Auction.

Actually the first cuverie of the Hospices was the, now, Salle St.Louis, a much more imposing building today than when receiving grapes, the Salle St.Louis looks onto inner courtyard of the Hôtel Dieu. The cuverie moved to the bigger location next to the Pavillion St.Anne in the 17th century. Originally, wine was for the patients of the Hôtel Dieu – remember that water was, largely, unsuitable for drinking.

Today, the cellars of the Hospices are still a match for those of Patriarche and Drouhin, extending over 400 metres underground, under the streets of Beaune, though portions are now rented out to other producers. The last vintage actually vinified here was the 1993 but these, now largely symbolic, cellars do still provide the elevage space for the barrels kept back by the Hospices for their own uses, including those bottles sold in the tourist shop of the Hospices. Today the cellars house tasting events and receptions for the Hospices, you can even book the tasting room, if you wish…

The Hôtel Dieu is so iconic that it is a must for all visitors to Beaune, but never forget what also lies below your feet…

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