59 A bottle of Romanee Conti '99 and we'll start at 2800 for this bottle. Ah, a prestigious name. 2800. Let's follow that bid of 2800... 2900... 2900 in the room. Any advances on 2900... No regrets?... More? Sold to the gentleman; first sale for the gentleman...
2900 Euros for a single bottle of wine! For that you have to have a well filled wallet. The gentlemen in the Versace shirt who has just bought it before leaving the auction room discretely... had the look of not having any worries in that department.
We are at the sale of expensive wines in the wonderful Cour de Loges in the old town in Lyon. Here we are facing bottles which dreams are made of. The great vintages from Bordeaux, of course. But some unusual rarities too. This bottle of Chartreuse for example, the famous liqueur, green or yellow which is still made today by the monks in their monastery near Grenoble. It is dated between 1905 and 1910. We cannot be more exact. But that's of little concern, for the initiated, it is a true find, especially as, at this time, Chartreuse is very fashionable.
Denis Bernard is the expert responsible for monitoring the authenticity of the merchandise in the sale:
There are bottles which they don't make any more, that's Chartreuse Tarragone, so these are bottles which they don't make any more and which are becoming more and more difficult to find, if you like, and in effect today there is a lot of interest in all these Chartreuses. At all the sales they fetch quite amazing prices..
The following lot, 442, a bottle of golden chartreuse... exceptional condition... we start at 450 Euros for this bottle.
That's the bid
That's the bid on the telephone... 460...
Did someone say 480?
480... 500... 20... 20... 540... 50... 550... 560... 600... 50... 700... 50... 800... 50...
900... 900 on the telephone. Anyone want to advance on 900? No regrets at 900? Changed your mind? Sold at 900 Euros on the telephone.
The buyer is not in the room and remains anonymous. M Bernard slips us a few clues however:
He's a great restaurant owner. A great restaurant owner who bought that, I think for his restaurant. It is in Rhone-Alpes.
But bidding for wine is not only the business of great vintages. You can find also little lots at much more modest prices. For the connoisseur on a small budget who knows how to read the labels, there is business to be done. Georges dos Santos, the organiser of the sale explains that the auction room is frequented by a variety of customers:
Individuals, specialists, restaurant owners, cellar keepers, collectors, foreigners. Foreigners and especially those who love wine.
I bought some wines of the year of the birth of my children. In order to keep them 20 years so that they can drink them in 20 years time.
There's the price, but it's not just that, it's not too expensive today, there's the rarity of the bottles, you cannot find them still elsewhere and then there's also the gamble. It's fun.
All wines interest me. Especially the mythical wines... but... whether they are from Cote du Rhone, from Burgundy, from Bordeaux... all great... so there's plenty of choice. Oh well, there's plenty of Romanee Conti, Petrus... these are amazing bottles! But there are bottles which you cannot get now in the shops, because of their age, and then because they are hard to find.
Difficult to find, that's the least that you can say for a bottle of Madeira which dates from 1789. But is a liquor from that time still drinkable? M dos Santos is confident:
Last year, we drank an 1845 which was wonderful, so 1789 I think that that's a quite wonderful bottle too! They change, there is a taste which changes, there is an aroma, they're mature, and there is a complexity in... wines can have up to maybe 50 or 60 different aromas. It's very, very, very complex and then there are also the wines which are not in the range of everyone, in the financial range, but in the intellectual range too as... for most people that can be bad, but for the people who know, that can be something amazing all right.
And then there is the sentimental side... the possibility of drinking to the Revolution:
Of course, 1789 is the most important date for the French!
But in the auction room today there are not any revolutionaries right now and the bottle remains unsold.
We'll move on to lot 426 with a bottle of Madeira 1789. So for this bottle we're going to start right away at 2000 Euros.
I'm telling myself that seeing the year, they could have cut it down a bit, the bottle. That wouldn't be bad.
We are on 2000 for this bottle. 2000 Euros. A bottle from 1789. 2000. Do we have a bidder? For this bottle from 1789 in its original bottle. Do we have a bidder at 2000? Anyone change their mind? No regrets? Any more? A beautiful collection, that would have started.
The sound of the hammer, it's good for the adrenaline, but annoys sensitive people. To avoid that in the countryside of Beaujolais in keeping with the convivial ways of the area, they have lamp sales:
The contract is concluded after two lamps have gone out without a new bid arriving while they are on.
Well the lamp sale, that is an auction which takes care of itself, like for the sale of stocks and shares, like the old sales, that's done on the lamp, so on two lamps. The first lamp has to be on, then it goes out. The second lamp, if there aren't other bids, at the end of the second lamp, out, it's sold. It's never scientific, it's really simple. You have to allow some time sometimes, so the lamps allow you to wait. With the hammer, things go too quickly.
And it is true that allows another rhythm, the rhythm of the countryside. Let's listen to it now:
For the cellar of Judith Jonchier, Morgon 2003, 72 bottle.
First lamp, 504. First lamp 504 Euros. First lamp 504 Euros. 510. 510. First lamp 510. Last lamp 510. 520. 530. 540. 550. First lamp 550. 560. First lamp 560. Last lamp 560. Last lamp 560. And 560. Sold! 560. It's too late sir, there isn't any more Morgon.
Master Chaussin, the sales executive explains that in spite of this relaxed mood, the lamps are as effective as the hammer for getting the desires moving:
It doesn't change anything at all. The prices are just the same. The price, it's the goods, that's what makes the price; the price of the wine is set by the wine itself, it's not... the way of selling it makes no difference. It's the bids which set the price, the best offer gets the contract.
The sale is for the benefit of the Hospices of Beaujeu and it is the outcome of a very long tradition:
This sale is the 207th, and the first one took place in 1797 and it is the oldest charity sale in the world. In fact, it was started at the time when the wine selling was just starting and the hospices had received several gifts, since the oldest gift was in 1240, they had too much for the use of the hospital which was quite important at that time. But... so they had an idea of putting a little bit of what they had that was too much on sale and selling it in Paris, mainly, and so there was the first sale by auction where they had two rooms I think for sales in 1797 and later over time there were legacies and enlargement of the area so the sales grew and continued.
In other times and until very recently in fact, the auctions of the Hospices de Beaujeu were a very important event in the area. It was at the auctions that the prices for the last harvest were established. But today the nature of the wine business has changed and the auctions have lost their role as an economic barometer. Here is the explanation of Bernard du Guyper, a dealer:
Since if you like, the wine market thirty years ago, for bulk wine, was closed as it was the auction of the Hospices de Beaujeu but there was beforehand the festival Raclet a Romaneche, the wine sale at Fleuri, the wine market in Morgon... those sales were the time when the dealer found out about the wines and chose the wines that he has buying. Today, the business is arranged differently, for many, and it's done in the vineyard and in fact influences the wine making and they don't find the wine in the month of November, so right away they no longer had confidential influence and that has become a bit of a folk-tale.
Folk-tales, perhaps , but with a nice objective of looking after people. Bernadette Lafond is one of the managers of the Hospices de Beaujeu which are going to take advantage of it.
It is a hospital of 212 beds for elderly people, especially elderly people and so we are opening a unit for palliative care, and so we want to try out extra equipment for this palliative care unit and we hope that this sale, the outcome from this sale, will contribute enough to allow us to buy some extra equipment, some beds, special materials, morphine pumps, so all the materials needed to deliver palliative care.
The atmosphere is warm and even if it is no longer a market setter, the wine tasting before the sale is a perfect opportunity to judge the last harvest. The year 2003 was an exceptional year for the specialists:
We think this harvest chewy for some varieties, so it's chewy, it's good all right.
Well it's a vintage which is quite exceptional because - on may points - straight away because it's early, at our vineyard we started harvesting on August 19, that's at least a month earlier than the average of the last twenty years, so it is very very early with, thanks to the harvest, a very strong crop; we did 32 hectolitres per hectare whilst we normally do 57 and so quite a small harvest, we have... nearly... a little bit more than a half of the harvest but wines which are much more concentrated than usual which have aromas a little bit different, it's a nice little very special year but it's a good year, there are really good wines.
Keep your eyes open for the 2003 vintage then in the future.
So it is on the top quality bottles, there are the wines which have to be kept a while. So we talk about keeping them 10 years, 15 years, but it is these wines which no doubt have the potential to keep, between, let's say 3 and 5 years, that's sure. What's more we cannot really say now, it's a bit too early. But it is however well balanced wine there are some places notably with the whites, there the acidity is reduced, there's a little bit more concern on their ageing, there we have had nevertheless well balanced wines. So I think that there are wines which are going to age very well. If we take the last very warm year that we had which was 1976, the 1976s today are still superb. So we hope that the 2003s will age as well.
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