Every third Sunday in November, Burgundy hosts a charity auction of barrels of young wines from vineyards owned by the Hospices de Beaune, a charitable establishment born in a distinctive historical context of 15th century Europe – when France almost became part of England, when Burgundy was ruled by a succession of luxury-loving and independence-seeking dukes, when salt was a gold-bringer and wines were a powerful tool of political seduction. Julia Sherstyuk-Viswanathan looks back into the fascinating history of this unique institution
An iconic example of flamboyant Gothic architecture, the Hospices de Beaune with its multicoloured turret roof is the symbol of the Golden Age of Burgundy’s Dukes

Built between 1443 and 1451 as Hotel-Dieu of Beaune, a hospital for the poor, later grouped with a local leprosarium, an orphanage and a nursing home to form the Hospices de Beaune, this charitable organisation has been for centuries receiving donations of land, money, artworks and, in the true spirit of Burgundy, vineyards which proved to be the hospital’s most sustainable and profitable inheritance.

Totalling 60 hectares (50 for the reds and 10 for the whites), 85% of which are classified as Grands and Premiers Crus, these vineyards, whose average age is 35 years, are tended by 23 handpicked vignerons to produce 50 cuvée, each named after an important donor or benefactor of the Hospices. These batches are mostly a judicious assemblage of grapes from different vineyard plots, making the wines of the Domaine des Hospices unique and original.

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