The Hospices in Beaune, the Burgundian capital of wine, is one of the most beautiful structural examples of French medieval artistry. Work on this building began in 1443, on the orders of Nicolas Rolin, the Chancellor of Philip the Good. From 1452 onward, the poor and sick of the city were looked after in the Hôtel-Dieu as part of the building is known. In 1471, vineyards in the Côte d’Or region were donated to the Hôtel-Dieu.
The wines from these vineyards were used as tonics or medication, but were also so highly regarded that they were given as presents to important people and benefactors in order to gain their favour.
Over the centuries, the vineyards owned by the Hospices de Beaune expanded, thanks to donations and transfers of ownership, until they became a significant property. Today, this comprises some 61 hectares (151 acres) – predominantly premiers crus and grands crus – and production is now managed using techniques in harmony with nature. All the wines begin maturing in small new oak casks.
On the third Sunday in November, in lots comprising several casks of the same appellation, they come under the hammer in the biggest charity auction in the world. This has been held ever since 1859, originally in the Hôtel-Dieu but now in the covered market in Beaune. The proceeds go toward the financing of the Hospices, which was transferred to a modern building as recently as 1971.
The famous auction house Christie’s has been responsible for the auction since 2005, giving private customers the opportunity to participate in the bidding, The wines are only matured and bottled by the wine merchants accredited in Beaune, however, the Hospices itself does not sell any bottled wine. The auction is still considered an important indicator of how prices are developing in the Côte d’Or region.
Since 1872, there has been a general Burgundy wine fair in Beaune over the same weekend. The entrance fee buys splendid opportunity to taste about 3000 different wines from all the appellations of Burgundy.