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Hospices de Beaune: The Wine Auction that Raises Money for Charity

The Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction is like a film festival | © M. Joly - Beaune Tourism
The Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction is like a film festival | © M. Joly - Beaune Tourism
The Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction is arguably the most charitable sale of its kind in the world. Raising funds for medical care facilities and the preservation of historical monuments in Beaune, the 2018 auction marks the 158th edition of this incredible event.

The Hospices de Beaune, otherwise known as Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune, is a hospital foundation located in Beaune, the Burgundy region of France. It was built in the Middle Ages and is one of France’s most prestigious historic monuments thanks to its unique and flamboyant Gothic architecture.

Every third Sunday in November, The Hospices de Beaune auctions the entirety of its yearly harvest in the local town hall of Beaune. In 2018, it will take place on Sunday, 18 November.

Culture Trip spoke to Jean-David Camus, the number one buyer at the Hospices auction for the past 20 years, to find out more. Camus works for Maison Albert Bichot, a family-owned winemaker in Burgundy that was established in 1831, and has been in charge of selling Hospices de Beaune wines, both old vintages and at the auction, since 2009.

Christie’s auction house sells wines from an estate made up of donations and bequests for over 500 years © M. Joly – Beaune Tourism

The Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction boasts an eclectic program of events

Camus compares the yearly wine auction to “a film festival”. Since the auction takes place in a small town hall, tickets are limited, bringing a degree of exclusivity. Despite this, there are many wine-themed fringe events and festivities taking place in the town at the same time, allowing more people from the town and further afield to take part.

The Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction is like a film festival © M. Joly - Beaune Tourism

“It’s a multifaceted event. There are plenty of tastings, parades, food stands in the street and everybody mingles in a very French joie de vivre“, says Camus.

The Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction has lots of fun events © M. Joly – Beaune Tourism

Camus explains, “People come from all over the world to a small French town to enjoy good wine, good food and a unique atmosphere once a year. It is exciting for people from Beaune to be part of this!” There are even traditional French music concerts to serenade your senses, organised as part of the fringe events.

There are 50 iconic wines to discover, each with their own unique tale

Beaune is the perfect setting for a wine auction because it’s located in Burgundy, which is one of the oldest and most famous wine regions in the world. There are two highly commended grape varieties that hail from this region, chardonnay (white wines) and pinot noir (red wines).

The Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction is organised for a great cause © M. Joly – Beaune Tourism

There are an impressive 50 wines featured at the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction. They are all renowned for their fineness and rich aromatic expression, but some are a little more special than others. Jean-David Camus is particularly fond of “the Beaune Cuvée Dames Hospitalières”.

“This wine bears the name of the very first nurses that took care of the poor people of Beaune when the Hospices (hospital) was created more than five centuries ago in 1443”, explains Camus. “Behind the wine and the auction lies a great cause.”

The wine auction’s charitable efforts make it stand out from other wine sales

The money raised during the auction, usually around an epic €12 million, is dedicated to the improvement of local medical care facilities and the upkeep of the historical monuments in the area.

“This allows Beaune to have a very modern hospital with excellent facilities, despite being a small town between two big towns (Dijon and Chalon)”, explains Camus.

The Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction offers delicious tastings © M. Joly – Beaune Tourism

The most anticipated lot at each year’s auction is “the Presidential barrel”, which is sometimes known as “Pièce des Présidents”. Every year, one highly prized barrel is up for grabs between 3:30pm and 4:30pm. “It’s always a superb wine”, says Camus.

“At Albert Bichot, we’re proud that our customers bid very high to win this special barrel”, says Camus. The record sale is €480,000 and all profits go to one or two charities that change every year.

The Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction is dedicated to charity © M. Joly – Beaune Tourism

The Hospices estate has a fascinating historical legacy

The Hospices de Beaune dates back to 1443 when Chancellor Nicolas Rolin founded the estate. It was built for the poor towards the end of The Hundred Years’ War between France and England – a period of unrest and plague that devastated the French countryside – and functions as an emblem of goodwill.

Drawing inspiration from these charitable efforts, Guillemette Levernier donated the first vineyard to the Hospices de Beaune in 1457 and profits from the Hospices vineyard have been given to charity ever since.

“I think every person that steps in feels this is still a special place today”, says Camus, pointing out the hospital’s aesthetic treasures as well as its historical significance. “The Hôtel-Dieu (The Hospices de Beaune) is a unique architectural gem in France, with amazing glazed-tile roofs”, says Camus. These glazed-tile roofs are especially unique because they are designed in a polychrome style and decorated in a variety of colours.

The hospital is particularly beautiful in comparison to modern hospitals, with huge Gothic chimneys and hull-shaped arches. The masterfully preserved building itself serves as an inspiration to continue its conservation.