Hospices de Beaune

Bidders paid record prices for lots in the recent 2010 Hospices de Beaune barrel auction.

For those unfamiliar with the event, the Hospices de Beaune is the oldest charity wine event in the world. The Hospices itself is a charity hospital founded in 1443 and originally funded by the Dukes of Burgundy. Over the course of centuries, noblemen endowed the hospital by donating valuable parcels of vineyard land, which eventually swelled to 150 acres of Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards. The wine made from those parcels has been auctioned to the négociants, or merchants, of Burgundy every November since 1851.

So what does this mean? Hospices de Beaune prices are generally viewed as being a bellweather for Burgundy in general, although some experts now doubt this is the case. Anthony Hanson MW of Christie’s, which has conducted the auction since 2005, thinks that Hospices prices have been “decoupled” from regular Burgundy trading. Louis-Fabrice Latour, director of the famed négociant house, agreed with him, saying that “there is now a disconnect between the Hospices prices and those commanded by the estates themselves.”

Perhaps, but there’s another layer to this particular onion. It seems that the Burgundy négociants been eyeing the Chinese market, and regarding the record-shattering prices paid by Hong Kong collectors for Bordeaux First Growths with just a tad of envy. They have apparently decided that they want a piece of the action.

Pierre-Henry Gagey, the head of Louis Jadot, has announced a marketing campaign with a budget of €400,000 to “conquer the Chinese market,” saying that Asia will be the primary focus for Burgundy producers going forward. To be fair, Gagey seems balanced in his enthusiasm for China; he wants to continue to sell wine around the world, and has the stated goal of introducing the Chinese to reasonably-priced Burgundy. At the same time, he realizes that things can quickly get out of hand, remarking that “We can’t prevent speculation in the Grands Crus” and that “If China gets the mood for Burgundy, it could send prices higher.”

I’ve known Pierre-Henry for several decades. I like him, admire him, and think he’s done a fine job at Jadot. Before the Hong Kong collectors start buying Burgundy, though, I would tell him one thing: Please leave some wine for the rest of us.

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