The number of lots on offer at Burgundy's most famous annual charity auction was the smallest in decades, yet the total raised set an all-time high.
On Sunday, there were just 443 barrels on offer at the Hospices de Beaune sale, following a small 2013 harvest in Burgundy. However, the auction raised a record 6.9 million euros ($9.3m), including buyer's premium.
The average price per 228-liter barrel increased by 26.6 percent to 13,013 euros ($17,560) against 10,278 euros ($13,870) in 2012, noted organizers Christie's in a statement. Red wines saw the biggest rise, up 28 percent whereas whites recorded a 20 percent increase.
"We're very happy with the exceptional result, which sets a new record for the charity auction," said Michael Ganne, who has run the Hospices de Beaune auction since 2005 for Christie's. "In spite of the smallest harvest in 30 years, bidders from more than 21 countries competed fiercely for the 43 cuvées setting an historic high."
In all, 443 barrels (each 228 liters) were on offer, compared to 518 last year, which was also a small harvest. In 2011, 761 barrels were sold.
Jean-David Camus, communications director at Burgundy merchant Albert Bichot explained that the rise in price was a result of the scarcity of wine. "It's a reflection of the rarity and the quality," he said.
The results of the annual charity auction are seen as a barometer for prices in the year ahead.
Local wine industry members expect higher prices due to "historically low stocks," explained the president of the Burgundian Confederation of Appellations and Winemakers, Jean-Michel Aubinel. He said he expected "supply difficulties" to follow.
After a small crop in 2012, the 2013 season was marked by a cold and rainy spring, along with a violent July hailstorm that ravaged 1,350 hectares of vineyards on the Côte de Beaune. Yields for the 2013 vintage in Burgundy should be around 1.26 million hectoliters – a figure equal to, or even lower than, the small 2012 vintage.
Louis-Fabrice Latour, president of the Burgundy wine producers' union, agreed that "volumes are going to fall while the value of wine will increase" in the coming months. Burgundy exports have experienced a 1 percent increase in value in the nine months to September 2013, while volume sales have fallen by 4 percent and this is likely to continue.
"The challenge that lies ahead for us in 2014 is to win acceptance for price increases faced with a shortage," Latour added.
At the Hospices de Beaune auction, the most coveted barrel was sold to a Chinese buyer for the first time. Yan Hong Cao, the successful bidder for 456 liters of Meursault-Genevrières, is from Yunan in southeastern China and owns a chain of shops, jade mines and tea plantations.
The 131,000 euros ($177,000) she paid for the "pièce du Président" represents a relative bargain. Last year's charity barrel, a 350-liter barrel of Corton Grand Cru, was sold for 270,000 euros ($364,304) by France's former first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy .
"Yes, it's a little less than last year, but it is still a good amount,” said Latour. “The barrel should have been a red grand cru [not a white premier cru] – it would have raised more," he added.
Ganne said this year's sale had generated " a lot of interest, with small volumes [on offer]." He noted that there were a “significant number of Asian buyers."
The proceeds from the auction will be used to maintain the 15th-century hospital.