In March, just before lockdown, I visited Burgundy to taste a wine you’ve probably never heard of, in a place you’ve probably never heard of.
The winery was in Etang-Vergy, and the wine was Nuits Saint George, 1er Cru Les Didiers from a négociant called Edouard Delaunay. That morning, I tasted the 2018 vintage, some 2017s and a few older vintages. It was a first for me, tasted the day before the equally overlooked Hospices de Nuits-Saint-Georges auction, which is held annually on the second Sunday in March.
The premier cru, which adjoins the southern edge of Les Saint Georges, has been a monopole of the Domaine des Hospices de Nuits since the 1920s. Both climat and auction are rather under the radar. So too have been the wines of Edouard Delaunay in recent years. The négociant was founded in 1893 and lasted 100 years before being neglected, sold and pretty much forgotten. Now it is being revived – to great acclaim.
At the end of the 19th century, Edouard Delaunay worked hard to develop an international network, and by the 1930s he had attracted such top-end domaines as Romanée-Conti and Liger-Belair. In the 1950s his descendants Bernard and Jean-Marie Delaunay moved operations to Nuits-Saint-Georges, making their own wine and distributing an ever-increasing portfolio of famous domaines.
But it wasn’t to last. By the early 1990s, Jean-Marie had developed Alzheimers and the faltering company was sold to the giant Jean-Claude Boisset. Fifth generation Laurent, with his wife Catherine, both qualified oenologists, packed their bags and went to make their fortune in the South of France, founding the négociant Badet Clément.
Fast forward to 2016 and Laurent and Catherine returned with a bang, buying back the company name and winning a fistful of medals. Their first vintage of Edouard Delaunay, focused on wines from Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune, was 2017 – and now a couple of 2018s have just joined the new Burgundy range at UK retailer Majestic.
One hopes that the revamped Hospices de Nuits auction can garner similar profile. It was in the early 1960s that the region began auctioning its current vintage in barrel, hoping to replicate the success of the Hospices de Beaune event down the road. But it lacked the razzmatazz of its much bigger and more famous counterpart – there was no TV coverage, celebrities, or Christie’s auctioneers wielding the hammer.
Yet Nuits, founded in 1270, is the older of the two charitable foundations (Beaune came a century and a half later, in 1443). It deserves to be better known, not least because of the quality of its terroir.
Both domaines were put together from the vineyard donations of wealthy landowners. The domaine of the Hospices de Nuits is a relatively modest 12.5 hectares, concentrated in Nuits-Saint-Georges and Premeaux, with some village parcels and nine 1er crus. The proceeds of the auction support the local hospital and care home for the elderly.
2020 marked the 59th auction. This year it was decided to update the traditional candlelit event held in Château du Clos de Vougeot: a professional auctioneer came in from Dijon, and, for the first time, private individuals could bid for the 124 lots, in person or online (the event was streamed live).
Prices were high: a barrel (which holds 300 bottles) is a big investment. Hammer prices for the premiers crus ranged from €13,000 for the cheapest, while the lots of Les Saint-Georges fetched between €19,000 to €24,000. As before, once you’ve bought your barrel, it must stay in Burgundy, in the cellar of a negociant, to complete maturation. Another option is to register interest in a share of a barrel.
Edouard Delaunay, which has an historic connection to the Hospices de Nuits, was to the fore, and is keen to simplify access for investors. It offers various options from maturing and bottling a full barrel to just taking on a few cases. Laurent Delaunay, a savvy marketeer, says they will even customise labels to include the investor’s name.
For those barrels bought by trade buyers, several of the wines will come onto the market later in the year when the wine is bottled. Among the major buyers was the negociant Albert Bichot, which bought several barrels, two of which will eventually be commercially available in the UK: Nuits Saint Georges Village Les Fleurières – Les Plantes au Baron, Cuvée des Sœurs Hospitalières; and one of the Les Didiers cuvées – Nuits Saint Georges 1er Cru Cuvée Jacques Duret. A special lot of old vine 1er Cru Les Didiers, meanwhile – Cuvée Fagon – was also bought by Bichot, raising €42,243 for the guest charity France Alzheimer . The auction as a whole raised a total of €1.6 million for the Hospice’s own medical activity.