Economic woes dampen demand at Burgundy auction

BEAUNE, France Sun Nov 20, 2011 3:30pm EST

BEAUNE, France (Reuters) - A sale of Burgundy wine at the world's biggest charity auction Sunday drew lower bids than in previous years as economic jitters hit home.

The sale of the so-called President's Lot is a highlight of the annual "Hospices de Beaune" auction, at which rich wine enthusiasts bid for fine Burgundy wines in a yearly sale whose proceeds are donated entirely to charity.

But economic worries crimped enthusiasm at Sunday's sale. Most auctioned bottles drew less than their expected bids, while the President's Lot -- a 460-liter barrel -- raised 110,000 euros, a steep drop from the 400,000 euros it raised last year.

"This year's auction takes place in a difficult financial and economic context," said Alain Suguenot, chairman of the hospices and mayor of Beaune, home to a striking medieval-era hospice in the midst of wine-growing country.

The auction is a meeting place for jet-setting millionaires and wine trades set on obtaining quality wines and funding charitable organizations.

Fashion figure Ines de la Fressange and comic film actor Christian Clavier presided over the sale of the special lot according to the traditional candle-flame method -- where bidding continues until the flame dies.

The revenue goes to the French Alzheimer's disease research association and a charity that funds cardiac surgery in France for children from poor countries.

The wines are from the 2011 harvest and will need to mature for a few years before they are ready for drinking.

"This vintage is the best of the century," said Claude Chevallier, president of the Burgundy vintners association. "That makes it the 11th in a row," he added.

Louis-Fabrice Latour, head of Burgundy's wine merchant group, said he expected the Burgundy prices in 2012 to be stable to slightly lower due to the financial crisis.

ALOXE-CORTON

This year the President's Lot was a Corton Clos du Roi Cuvee Baronne du Bay, named after the daughter of Jean-Louis Peste, a doctor at the hospice for 30 years in the 19th century.

In 1924, when she was alive, she donated vineyards to the hospital on the Aloxe-Corton hillsides. Over 45 percent of this Grand Cru terroir is planted with 37-year-old Pinot vines.

Clavier, born in 1952, is best known for his role in "The Visitors," a French film in which a group of medieval people are lost in modern times.

Aristocrat Fressange is a former top model and is well-known in France's fashion scene. She consults for fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier and still works occasionally as a model, gracing the catwalk at Chanel's 2011 spring-summer show at the age of 53.

Aside from the President's Lot, the general hospices bidding is for lots of 228 litres of wine in barrels that can be transformed into 288 standard bottles. The wine is from the 2011 harvest and has to stay in barrels for at least two years.

The wines are among the best and most expensive of Burgundy, France's second-biggest wine-making area after Bordeaux.

The auction, by Christie's, still takes place in the medieval building but telephone lines and Internet connections allow bidders to participate from all over the world.

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