Charles Aznavour to preside over Hospices de Beaune

2017 proves “cruising speed vintage”

13 November 2017

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles, with text culled from Bourgogne Wine Council press releases

In just a few days, world famous crooner and UN goodwill ambassador Charles Aznavour will join Agnès b., Julie Depardieu and Marc-Olivier Fogiel as presidents of the 157th Hospices de Beaune auction, which takes place this year on Sunday 19 November. His cause this year will be Alzheimer’s disease. The other presidents will raise money for other worthy causes.

And I’ll be there again to track results, which often reflect worldwide demand for a given vintage.

Before we get into the auction, how it works and why such famous people like Aznavour and Julie Depardieu are involved, let’s briefly take a look at the 2017 harvest…

About the harvest

I did not visit Bourgogne (the French word for Burgundy) this year for the harvest, but according to reports, the mood of vintners this year is one of both “relief and joy,” because 2017 marks a return to “cruising speed” after a series of vintages that had suffered significant weather whims, the 2016 in particular.

Indeed, this year’s auction reflects a healthier crop: 787 pièces (a Bourgogne barrel containing 228 liters) will go under the hammer this coming Sunday as opposed to only  buy 596 in 2016

Mild weather at the end of winter into early spring led to an early and fast bud-burst. In mid-April, it took a few days for vines to produce their first covering of leaves, some 7-10 days ahead of the average over 1994-2016. From then on, vines grew at “breakneck speed,” thanks to the weather which offered sunshine, heat, and the odd welcome spell of rain. There was little disease, and spraying was reduced across the entire campaign, according to the Bourgogne Wine Council.

By mid-June, the plants were flowering, and the first fruit appeared soon after. The suggestion that this would be an early vintage was confirmed – still 7-10 days ahead of the average over 1994- 2016 – and the idea that harvesting would begin at the very start of September seemed increasingly likely.

The summer months saw few periods of intense heat, and the weather proved fairly mixed, but ripening continued at a good pace. On 23 August, the first grapes were picked in the south of the region, to be used in the production of Crémant de Bourgogne. Again precocious: two weeks earlier than in a typical year.

Harvesting in the rest of the region followed quickly, with more southerly plots being picked just a few days earlier than those in more northerly vineyards. Whether the grapes were to be used in still or sparkling wines was irrelevant – only the level of maturity of the fruit determined the date of picking.

Harvesters at work

The whites reached maturity generally before the reds, with healthy and ripe fruit gathered in sunshine. The more delicate Pinot Noir required “greater patience,” according to industry sources. More autumnal weather arrived in early September and rain was another element that needed to be considered when selecting a harvest date. Picking peaked during the first two weeks of September.

A slight damper arrived with a springtime frost that hit the Châtillonnais and part of the Chablis and the Mâcon regions, which left its mark on those estates most affected, and which had already been hit by frost in 2016.

Good yields this year were a “huge relief” for many, but quality was also there in spades, which is, of course, essential to the Bourgogne winegrowing region.

I will taste the baby 2017s this coming Saturday with other professional tasters and wine critics, so stay tuned for my report on these wines.

The tasting room at the Hospices de Beaune

About the auction 

In addition to sales for charity, starting Friday 17 November the entire weekend through to Monday amounts to a cultural celebration of all things Bourgogne, with other events taking place. The most famous include the Chapter of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin at the Clos de Vougeot on Saturday night and the legendary Paulée de Meursault on the Monday following the auction. Together, they form Les Trois Glorieuses, or “The Glorious Three Days” which, for more than 150 years, have celebrated the conclusion of the winegrowing year in the Bourgogne region.

But I will get a chance to taste for example first ever examples of the newly launched Côte d’Or appellation, which will be inaugurated over the weekend. In parallel to official celebrations, the general public can practice their wine-tasting skills at the 145th Fête des Grands Vins de Bourgogne at the Palais des Congrès, where Bourgogne wines from all appellations will be available to assessA number of wine houses and estates also open their doors during the weekend, allowing people to fully explore the region’s wines.

The mood at the 2015 auction was more sombre in the wake of the terror attacks that had struck Paris

The Hospices de Beaune was founded during the Middle Ages. Its vineyards make wine for the auction. The 787 Pièces (a Bourgogne barrel containing 228 l) to be auctioned this year are divided into 630 pièces of red wine and 157 pièces of white wine. They amount to 50 cuvées for the wine auction: 33 red and 17 white. The cuvées are either from single vineyards, or made up of  judicious blends of grapes from different vineyard plots.

These blends make up one of the originalities of the Domaine des Hospices, creating special wines unique to the Domaine. Each cuvée is named after an important donor or benefactor of the Hospices de Beaune.

In 2017, a new prestigious “cuvee” enters the Hospices de Beaune’s range.

Ever since the 15th century, men and women have been leaving their possessions and wealth to the Hospices de Beaune. In 2017, the winemaker Bernard Clerc (Henry Clerc Domain) gave a parcel of 2,000 square meters within the famous appelation Puligny-Montrachet. Vineyards of about forty years old are in the Climat “Les Reuchaux” in the northern part of the appellation (Meursault side). Vineyard-manager of the Hospices de Beaune wine estate since 2015, Ludivine Griveau, directs vinification of the new vintage which now enriches the 49 cuvées of the Hospices de Beaune.

Vineyard-manager of the Hospices de Beaune wine estate since 2015, Ludivine Griveau

Funds raised by the sale are used by the Hospices de Beaune for charitable purposes such as upgrading medical equipment and infrastructure at the hospital, as well as for the preservation of historical monuments such as the Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune.

Since 1945, every year the Hospices de Beaune has lent support as well to one or more charities by donating the proceeds from one barrel of wine, called “a pièce” in Bourgogne, sold especially for that purpose – the Pièce des Présidents.

This year, money will be shared among three charities:

  • The Fondation Tara Expéditions represented by Agnès b and the actress Julie Depardieu
  • The Fédération pour la Recherche sur le cerveau sponsored by Marc-Olivier Fogiel
  • The Fondation pour la Recherche sur Alzheimer supported by Charles Aznavour

As an exception, for this 157th sale, the Pièce des Présidents will offer two barrels of 228 liters. This year, the two barrels from the 2017 harvest, come from the appellation Corton Grand-Cru Clos du Roi.

Stay tuned for many reports to be published soon in these pages, including a tasting of 2015 Gevrey Chambertin at all levels, from village and premier cru to grand cru!

 

 

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