Antonio and I wanted to do something truly special for our 10th non-wedding Anniversary. We’ve seen people get married, get divorced, have children, get married again, then go through their second divorce. We work and live together and I think 10 years is a pretty good accomplishment. When our friends Barbara and Vincent messaged us asking if we’d like to join them for dinner the Friday before the wine auction, Antonio made an impulse purchase and bought us tickets to France. Needless to say, I’m kind of excited. I get to celebrate ten years with the man I love in France, AND I get to experience one of the wine world’s most exciting event; the Wine Auction.
Hospices de Beaune
I won’t actually get to enjoy the auction since I’m not purchasing a barrel of wine. That would be 300 bottles of wine, and while I can certainly polish that off in little over a year, I’d have to sell my soul to the devil to afford it. I will get to experience Beaune, its people, and its wines during this exciting time. I’ll give you a little info on the auction so you can see why I am so excited about my trip, and once there, I’ll update you on the details and happenings in the city.
What is the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction?
It’s the most famous charity wine auction in the world. The auction takes place in the city of Beaune which is located in Burgundy, a region of France long-known for producing top-quality French wine including, of course, its namesake: Burgundy wine. Beaune is located in the eastern part of the country and is the wine capital of Burgundy – not to mention the most ideal setting for a wine auction of this distinction.
The Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction Experience
For 153 years, this auction has gathered together wine enthusiasts to take part in the ‘en primeur’ on the third Sunday of each November. Organized by Christie’s, the sale provides buyers with the very special opportunity to obtain the current year’s vintage. Typically, bidders select a wine from 46 choices. There are many ways to bid; one can bid by telephone, internet, at the cellar or make out a written bid. Bidders can opt to purchase this French wine by bottles or barrels, depending on their preference. This fine wine has reached the end of its vinification within the hospices winery. Many buyers then entrust the aging process to a professional for the next year to two years to ensure the wine reaches optimal condition prior to bottling.
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A Full-Service Auction
Prices include the hammer fee, auctioneer, barrel and more. In fact, the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction is a full-service purchasing experience. Bidders are treated to the traditional auction atmosphere, one that has been perfected over more than a century and conducted by professionals in the field.
A Heart for Humanitarian Causes
Later in the day, the pièce de charité, or charity barrel, also known as the Pièce des Présidents (presidents’ barrel) is auctioned off. In keeping with tradition, this particular portion of the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction takes place by candlelight, just as it did back in 1945 when the charity portion began. What makes the traditional event even more meaningful is the fact that all proceeds support one or more humanitarian charities. In 2010, the pièce de charité raised $400,000 for worthy causes.
Other funds raised support the Hospices de Beaune itself. While the majority of proceeds are directed to the hospital in order to maintain infrastructure and further medical treatments, other funds go towards the vineyards and preserving heritage. The benefits for buyers are twofold: leaving their mark on a long-standing charitable tradition and the delicious pleasure found in Burgundy wine.
Hospices De Beaune History
A former almshouse, the Hospices de Beaune (then the The Hôtel-Dieu) was founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, the Chancellor of the Duke of Burgundy, and his wife Guigone de Salin. This was the time after the Hundred Year’s War which had just ended in 1435 with the Treaty of Arras. The people of Beaune were poor and starving. The hospital was set up by Rolin and his wife to bring much needed medical care to the people of Beaune. As time passed, gifts were made to the Hospices, and the estate grew. Jean Pamplays and his wife made the first gift of the Hospices de Beaune. It was the vineyards. The first auction took place in 1859.
The original Hôtel-Dieu building is now a museum, and the Hospices de Beaune’s medical care has been moved to much larger, modern facilities. It is a true Medieval masterpiece, famous for the splendor of its courtyard, its mulitcolored roof, and glazed tiles. When you visit Beaune, you simply must go to the Hôtel-Dieu museum.
It’s most well known treasure is the altarpiece of the Last Judgment by Rogier van der Weyden. It’s impressive. The polyptic (a painting made of various panels) is 7×18 feet (HUGE). It was commissioned by Nicolas Rolin for the Hôtel-Dieu. At the time, most people who went to the hospital probably died, so you can just imagine how these dying people felt when they looked at the altarpiece. The altarpiece depicts Christ, accompanied by the heavenly court, including the archangel Michael who weighs the souls to decide who will get into the kingdom of heaven. You also get to experience the suffering of the sinners, their expressions are simply ghastly. I’m not sure it would be something I’d want to see on my deathbed, but it is a splendid piece to see now.
It costs only €7 to get in, so don’t miss out.
Friday November 15 – Two Days Before Auction
Beaune is starting to get busier, but it is not quite busy yet. Restaurants in the city are bustling with people having coffee and smoking cigarettes. Tour buses are starting to arrive, this scares me a bit and reminds me of what happened in Dubrovnik when tourists took over the town. I guess time will tell. The square by Les Halles and the Hospices De Beaune is full of activity. The area is being secured, tents are being raised, but Beaune remains calm somehow. The park with the carousel is being set up with miniature tents for what I assume will be places to eat and shop…and maybe to drink wine. I’ll update some more as the day passes.
We made a stop at the Dalineum – which is awesome – and we got to meet Jean Amiot, the owner of the museum who curated the collection throughout his life. The museum is fantastic and Jean is super nice. He even let us play with the sculptures (which I normally would be against, but we were gloved). Do not miss the museum when you’re in Beaune.
We had lunch with Jean at Loiseau Des Vignes.
At night we met friends out at Le Bistro des Cocottes Bar at Place Madelein. This is your townie bar, with rock music, beer, booze….but since it’s Beaune it up whalso comes with a great wine list (they were not lacking in Premier Crus). For dinner, we hit up what I’d consider Beaune’s version of the Jersey Diner, Restaurant Le Belena. For €22 we got so much food. We got an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert. Before dinner, they brought out pate en croute for everyone. I ordered the most delicious oeufs en meurette, these were seriously good. Antonio got himself the persillade (a little too salty, but still tasty). For my main course, I got the entrecote with gratin potatoes and a stewed tomato. This was a nice dish. I’ve had better, but for €22, I could not complain. The gratin potatoes and the tomato were off the hook. Antonio got a boeuf bourguignon, it was gone at the end of the night, so I think he liked it. For dessert I got a nice simple coffee ice cream and Antonio got an assortment of delicious cheeses. There were 8 of us and our bill came out to €350. Not bad, especially since we drank quite a bit of wine. Definitely hit up this place for uncomplicated French comfort food.
After dinner, we returned to Bistro des Cocottes. All over the street there were New Orleans style jazz bands, and bars were PACKED! This was a party. I gave in at around 1am, but our friends did not get back until 4am. The French party like rock stars.
- 2:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Burgundy Village: Gastronomic and craft stalls. Come discover the know-how of artisans.
- 4 p.m. to 10 p.m Saint Flocel’s Chapel: Non-stop creperie 20 Paradise Street.
- 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Chapel St Etienne : Tasting of white and red wins from the Côte de Beaune, gougères, foie gras.
- 6:00 p.m. Place de La Halle : Night jogging starting at the central square “Place de la Halle” Discovery of the ramparts and the illuminations
- 6:30 p.m. : Announcement of three glorious City Centre by the Fanfare Gratkipoils
- 7 p.m. Porte Marie de Bourgogne de Beaune : Launching of the three glorious at 6 Perpreuil Bld /19 Postern Street.
Saturday November 16 – One Day Before Auction
As you know I’m big into Farmer’s markets, the official Beaune Farmer’s Market was moved from its usual location to the Lorraine Parking lot. It still had everything you could need and we picked up eggs, veggies, a black footed Poulet de Bresse, and a jamboneau (delish). As we walked back to town, we were thrilled. There were tons of places to eat. Stands had oysters, mussels, sandwiches. You will not go hungry in Beaune during auction. You may have a hard time reserving at a Michelin star restaurant, but staying full (and buzzed) will not be an issue. People are happily drinking on the street, and everything remains orderly. If you get cold, just pick up some mulled wine to warm yourself back up.
The city itself was gorgeous at night. Beaune sets up projectors that shine different scenes onto its most famous buildings such as Notre Dame de Beaune, and of course the Hospices de Beaune. There is music and wine, food and fun. And luckily, while the city is busy, it is calm, navigable, and not overcrowded.
- 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Burgundy Village: Gastronomic and craft stalls. Come discover the know-how of artisans.
- 10:00 a.m. to 8 p.m. Chapel St. Etienne: Tasting of white and red wins from the Côte de Beaune, gougères, foie gras.
- 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Chapel St. Flocel : Non-stop creperie.
- 10 a.m. Beaune Sports Forum: Power Walking in the vineyard and on Beaune’s mountain.
- 1:40 p.m. : Starting of the Foulees Beaunoises at Avenue Republique.
- 2:00 pm: Start of the half marathon at Avenue Republique
- 2.15 p.m. : Official Opening of the Burgundy Village
- 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. : Musical and Folk Animation on the city center’s squares and streets
- 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. : Demonstrations at the city center
- 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Fleury Square: Uncorking competition
- 4:30 p.m. : Awards of half marathon at the Sports’ room of the FORUM
- 5:30 p.m. : Torchlight of the CFDB from the city’s hall’s Square to the Carnot Square.
- 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. : All bands play together
Sunday November 17 – Auction Day
Beaune was buzzing with activity. In the morning, restaurants were filled with people having coffee and smoking cigarettes. Then everyone made their way to Les Halles. While the auction was once done in candlelight, it is now done in daylight. Since Les Halles has glass walls, one could watch the auction from outside. If you want to, you can get on line to try to get inside the auction. Loudspeakers gave those of us outside access to the goings on inside. While I was there, bidding started at €7,000. Bids were made live, via internet, and by phone. Pretty cool stuff.
The main park with the carousel was filled with stands selling food, wine, and really cool tchotchkes. It was way too easy to spend money as people sold truffles, foie, wine. A tip, skip the shops here and head over to Chapelle Saint Etienne. Inside you will find much cheaper food & wine. For example, escargot at Place Carnot was being sold for €20, but over at Saint Etienne it sold for a mere €9. They also had 1/2 dozen oysters at €9, a cheese plate with 5 cheeses for €5, and lots of wines to taste starting at €3. This is definitely where the bargains were at.
We closed up the night at Le Pickwick, a really cool British style pub with some really good wines. The place had comfy seating and each time you order a round, the owner Jerome gives you pate en croute, vinegar chips and peanuts. This place is a winner.
Something tells me I’ll be back next year for the auction.
- 9:30 a.m. Mass at Notre Dame De Beaune: Homage of the Population to the winegrowers.
- 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Burgundy Village. Gastronomic and craft stalls. Come discover the know-how of artisans.
- 10:45 a.m. Carnot Square: Parade for the Basilica de Notre Dame de Beaune
- 11:15 a.m. Carnot Square : Enthronement by the CFDB’s BELNUS’ brotherhood of the president of the wine auction.
- 10:00 a.m. to 8 p.m. Chapel St. Etienne : Tasting of white and red wins from the Côte de Beaune, gougères, foie gras.
- 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. St. Flocel Chapel : Non-stop creperie.
- 2.30 p.m. Les Halles de Beaune:153rd wines’ sale of Beaune’s Hospices. The 153rd wine auction of the hospice de Beaune.
- 3 p.m. : Great music and folk parade through the streets of the city center.
- 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. : Animations of squares and streets of the city centre