With the mid-December easing of the lockdown comes another chance. Announced earlier today:
I spotted the news late on Saturday – far too late for posting about here – a Sunday-morning tweet having to suffice. As you can see from the photo above, on a Sunday night that is usually packed with revellers, the only thing moving in Beaune tonight, was the Christmas lights.
I’ve seen in various local press-outlets that the organisers have been getting a lot of flack over their insistence that the Hospices de Beaune sale would go ahead – and then finally giving in to the inevitable and cancelling at the last moment. On the other hand, I admired their bloodymindedness – that they were trying to keep a charitable event going – and one that is extremely important to the businesses in, and around, Beaune too.
They are planning to find another date as soon as possible, is the current message, but for those buyers who normally (directly) decant the wine into older barrels, trying to lessen the impact of all the new oak – well, it won’t be the same this year – will it(?)!
Loathed as I am to criticise, in the end, like so much of the auction-business in 2020, they should have found a mechanism that preserved as much as possible of what makes this sale so special – but done online. Not just safety for all but a certain measure of security too – having not done so – now what?
Well, in the first instance, somebody’s going to have to pack-up the saleroom – for now, anyway!
I’m in good shape. This year the injuries have been nothing serious – but:
The Chablis marathon/half-marathon has been cancelled, as has the Beaujolais marathon/half-marathon. The latter of these surely wins the prize for the best original artwork – see above!
That does leave the possibility of the Beaune semi-marathon to test myself; currently shrunk from 5,000 potential runners to a maximum of 1,500. In the end, however, great shape or not – and I’m thinking 1:27-1:29 – I just can’t face being at the start-line shoulder-to-shoulder with 1,500 others – whether I’m wearing a mask, or not. And that’s going to be a big mess to clean up when 1,500 people throw their masks to the ground as they pass the startline…
So, for this year, I’ll stick to the roads, trails and vineyards – alone – I’m anyway anticipating the late cancellation of Beaune too – the infection-rate-growth is something to behold in France right now, as practically everywhere…
It’s already a couple of weeks since we lost the 2021 St.Vincent, planned for Puligny-Montrachet, Blagny and Corpeau.
In our new reality it seems to be mainly the larger, event-style, tastings that are currently being cancelled. One major maison has cancelled it’s usual sit-down/tutored new vintage tasting and another, even larger event will not now take place – the Roi Chambertin. For the former, I have already been able to arrange a private visit but the Roi will be a loss to my calendar – it will also be an opportunity too.
An opportunity? Well, yes.
I wouldn’t have joined the tasting this year if they’d stuck to the usual format – over 120 bottles (in duplicate) in a cellar with over 100 tasters – in covid-time, no thanks. The opportunity for me will be to visit more Gevrey domaines in person – something that in recent years I had relatively restricted to domaines who didn’t show their wines at the Roi.
Of-course there are a few sought-after domaines that are also suggesting that tastings of their 2019s may be possible in Q1 next year but not in 2020 – or even not at all. Let’s see how that pans out too – there are always more domaines available than are possible to visit in the time available but some ‘losses’ seem inevitable this year, though for the moment I see only a modestly diminishing availability for my usual tastings.
There are other big events that are affected too: The wine auction of the Hospices de Beaune will have a much smaller tasting schedule – the buyers have to be included, of-course, but there will certainly be fewer spaces for journalists and other interested parties – including in the sale itself where they are planning alternate seating – occupied and not occupied. Outside of the sale-room, Beaune’s half-marathon (the same weekend) is currently still planned to happen, but with 3,000 participants versus the usual limit of 5,000. Then 2 days later there is the Paulée de Meursault; normally a gathering of over 700 souls in a place more comfortable for about 400! This year they plan just 250 places. Masks are mandatory for those serving their wines to the occupants of other tables – but if I know the people celebrating this event, maybe that detail will be forgotten after – hmm – maybe 15 minutes(?)
Nobody said that it would be easy, and of course, there are places that are much worse off. Indeed some of these truncated events may also be cancelled at short notice. Luckily for the region, what they are potentially losing in not getting their message out has been partially compensated for in 2020, mainly by the Brits – who are drinking more than ever of their stuff. Apparently they bought early and extra to get them through brexit, but given covid, they drank all that, so now need to replenish early 🙂
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…
Meursault 1er Clos des Perrières – 2017-1928
A day in Beaune today – despite the grey skies, it was one of those special days in Beaune. A privilege to taste wines back to 1928 – ostensibly white wine – but good enough that Lalou Bize-Leroy was coming back for extra sips. So many highlights!
Of course all will be in my May report – but first, it’s time to finish April’s!
Well, it could have been April given the variability of the weather – except that it was colder – the heavy bursts of rain often contained hail but they were punctuated by a beautiful blue sky. I saw 0.5°C as the lowest temperature on my early-morning trek over the Jura from Switzerland. One cloudburst of small hailstones had the effect of depositing 4-5cm of what looked like snow onto the autoroute – cars pirouetted, lorries jacknifed – not many people have winter tyres in France!
The 4-wheel drive, winter-booted Scooby danced through it all – but still had to beware of what others might do! Anyway today was the Trilogie en Côte de Nuits and my destination was the Clos de Vougeot to taste 2017 wines from 3 villages – Morey, Chambolle and Vosne – though there was also ‘Mini Me’ in the form of a small contribution from Vougeot too – I did have the impression that there wasn’t a lot of Chambolle on display. The first of these ‘Trilogies’ I attended was in a small cellar in Vosne to taste 2007s – some producers really haven’t improved since then – yes I’m looking at you Gros Frère et Soeur!
The rain was lashing when I arrived in Vougeot, and, of-course, cars were parked (abandoned!) everywhere – so a long hike with an umbrella was my choice. 1,000 people had registered for the tasting, so in circumstances like this you cannot taste everything – my choice was to taste all the Vosne-Suchots, Chambolle-Charmes, Echézeaux and Clos de la Roche that I could find in the room – there were surprisingly few of the 1er crus! Fortunately, a small, tasty, buffet lunch was included – necessary as, following my very early departure from Switzerland, my low sugar levels demanded action in the late morning.
Lots of old-faces to renew acquaintances and some good wines too – notes will follow-up in the reports section!
Let’s be honest – for over a week, the weather forecast was not good for Vézelay’s 2019 version of the St.Vincent – first minus degrees and snow – which would have been preferable to the closer (to the day) forecast of rain, wind and 7°C. Given such circumstances, we chose an easy breakfast at 9am – still in Chablis – before committing to a plan of action.
Tada! – Saturday morning – dry, and now the forecast was no rain until 7pm! That would work!
We packed the car then went our cheery way – deciding to make a stop in Avallon en-route: I’d expected more, despite it being market day, I think I was expecting a little more charm – though the area around the old walls/remparts looked quite interesting. Maybe we will return in the Summer – maybe.
Classed as ‘press’ we had our own car-park ‘in’ Vézelay – a seemingly long, improbable, single-track to a campsite – though described in my paperwork as an Auberge – a very muddy campsite despite no rain – I pity those that would use the same spot on Sunday! Whilst dry there was some low cloud – the town of Vézelay was nowhere to be seen in this, so we had no idea if we had a 10 or a 30 minute walk ahead of us – it turned out to be only 10 – hooray!
Vézelay is such a cool town – winter or summer – lots of people, lots of snails, lots of barbecue andouillette, and of-course lots of Vézelay wine – and cuvée for the St.Vincent was delicious – no indication of the producer on the label, but the cork said Domaine de la Croix de Montjoie.
They were expecting 30-40,000 people over the weekend – and I expect the Sunday may have been very wet, but like last year, on Saturday, we stayed dry. Vézealy was the perfect venue for the St.Vincent.
Next year the St.Vincent will be visiting Gevrey-Chambertin – 25+26 January 2020.
And for next year, St.Vincent number 76:
That’s ‘only €75’ per grand cru, but it must include Montrachet, Romanée-Conti, La Tâche et-cetera…
From the BIVB:
Top wines in 2019: Indulge yourself with Bourgogne’s 33 Grands Crus
There are 33 Bourgogne Grands Crus wines. Some are the stuff of legend, such as Romanée Conti or Bâtard-Montrachet. Others are more accessible, like Chablis Grand Cru or Clos de Vougeot. But all have one thing in common: They represent the essence of the Climats of Bourgogne and symbolize 2,000 years of winemaking history.
Now you can share in this priceless heritage. The Ecole des vins de Bourgogne is offering a single training session per year to explore these 33 outstanding appellations, including the rarest of them.
“The Ultimate Bourgogne Wine Tasting: The 33 Grands Crus” is run in English by two experts, one in tasting, the other in geology.
The program includes reading the landscape in the field, estate visits, and commented tasting sessions, which together will provide a unique insight into these celebrated wines. These three days combine learning with pleasure.
And as an additional treat, participants will be invited to the exclusive Paulée of the Musique & Vins Festival on Friday 28 June at the Château de Meursault!
Dates: 27 to 29 June 2019 (plus an introductory evening on 26 June).
Limited to 15 places
Price: 2,500 euros
Registration and program: on line.