Burgundy wine auction hit by economy, weather

BEAUNE, France Sun Nov 16, 2008 1:28pm EST

BEAUNE, France (Reuters) - Battered by storm damage and the weak global economy, French Burgundy wine prices fell at an annual charity auction held Sunday, experts said.

The Beaune Hospices auction, which features the 200-year-old tradition of bidding for the final lot until two candles flicker out, traditionally sets the price trends for the latest vintage.

Edinburgh hotel and restaurant owner James Thomson, wearing a kilt, placed the successful bid of 50,000 euros for the final exhibit, a 228-liter oak barrel of Pommard Premier Cru red wine.

The equivalent barrel, enough for about 300 bottles, went for 65,000 euros in 2007 and a record 200,000 euros in 2006.

Clos de la Roche, Cyrot Chaudron went under the hammer for an average of 30,000 euros a barrel Sunday, down from 35,667 euros in 2007 but up from 25,000 in 2006.

Experts said concerns over the international economy had capped prices this year, along with hail storms that battered vineyards in the eastern French region during the summer.

"We have seen prices come unstuck since September and to a lesser extent since June," said Louis-Fabrice Latour, president of the federation of Burgundy wine traders and producers.

"We are worried but not pessimistic. We got through the 1991 crisis which was much worse. Now we have lower interest rates and the dollar is strengthening, which could help us."

However, the British pound has fallen sharply against the euro since the crisis erupted and Britain, one of the main export markets for French wine, faces fears of a deep recession.

Exports to Britain fell 16 percent by volume and 10 percent by value in the first 10 months of the year.

"Britain is the market which worries the Burgundy operators most," Latour said. "Burgundy sales to Britain should be down by 20 percent by value in 2008."

The U.S. market is relatively robust, he added.

Almost 50 percent of Burgundy wine is exported.

Buyers come from around the globe to the annual fund-raising event overseen by the auction house Christie's.

Money from the auction goes to a hospital and retirement home in Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy.

(Reporting by Catherine Lagrange; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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