Article - RareWine Academy

Hospices De Beaune - Maurice Drouhin's Escape From The Gestapo

The world's largest charity wine auction is the fusion of Burgundian generosity and iconic wine sales. And right here, history is spiced up with wine of special historical sig

It was probably fate that a hospice conceived in kindness, born in the heart of Burgundy, and almost baptised in wine would survive several centuries to exist today as the owner of the world's largest charity wine auction.

This is certainly how the story of Hospices de Beaune is woven. And through countless donations, the hospital has unconditionally helped countless sick people over the years. And it just so happens that the nuns at Hospices de Beaune also saved the life of Maurice Drouhin when the Gestapo called 'check'. Read the story of the iconic wine sale and the grateful Drouhin right here.

Hospices de Beaune - A Burgundy Institution

In the mid-15th century, France was on the other side of the Hundred Years' War, which had left the French nation devastated and impoverished. Famine and plague were also a reality, so in 1443, Guigone-de-Salins and her husband Nicolas Rolin decided to set up a hospital in Beaune, in the heart of Burgundy, to offer free help to the area's poorest souls.

The hospital itself was designed by Jacques Wiscrére, and today the exceptional building stands as a striking landmark in the wine capital of Burgundy. The building is an architectural gothic building with roof tiles in shades of yellow, red, blue, and green, epitomising the work of art it was when it was created and the piece of architectural history it is today. Today, the hospital has long since moved to more modern facilities and the original building has become a much-visited museum filled with artworks, tapestries, furniture, authentic interiors, and pharmaceutical equipment.

Hospices De Beaune Hospices De Beaune

Hospital And Wine In Beautiful Symbiosis

Today, the Hospices de Beaune is still a functioning hospital, albeit with modernised facilities. However, the history of the hospital is saturated with wonderful wine, which from the very beginning of the Hospices de Beaune became a major part of its operations - and contributed to the survival of the hospital.

As soon as the hospital was established, donations of vineyards from local citizens and nobility began to arrive - both as a gesture of gratitude for the efforts of Guigone and Nicolas, but also to ensure the salvation of the donors' own souls. The many donations over the years have resulted in Hospices de Beaune having 60 hectares of vineyards in Burgundy's Côte de Beaune, Côtes de Nuits and Poully-Fuissé, the majority of which are mainly Premier or Grand Cru classified.

By producing and selling wine, the hospital was able to continue helping people in need. Traditionally sold through local negociants, but from 1859 to the present day, the hospital's wine harvest was sold at auction: the famous Hospices de Beaune auction.

Hospices de Beaune Saved Maurice Drouhin From Gestapo Execution

Hospices de Beaune is the story of wine and compassion in beautiful symbiosis. It is therefore wonderful that Hospices de Beaune should save Maurice Drouhin's life, even though he was neither ill nor in financial need. But he was in danger.

Maurice was the second generation of the famous Drouhin family, who create coveted wines in Burgundy - even to this day. In early June 1944, he was targeted by the Gestapo when they realised that he had provided important information to the "enemy". Maurice was a prominent player in the French resistance movement. Fortunately, he was warned at the last minute, allowing him to escape from the Gestapo execution squad that had turned up at Drouhin's estate to take him away and supposedly assassinate him.

The fact that Maurice knew his family's labyrinthine wine cellar better than he perhaps knew himself saved him. He escaped directly from his bedroom into the nearly one-hectare wine cellar - and out the now-famous Door of Freedom, which led him directly to the Hospices de Beaune.

The hospital was run by nuns at the time, and because Maurice had already joined the administrative commission of the Hospices de Beaune in 1925 and actually served as vice-president from 1941 to 1955, the Drouhin family had a close relationship with the entire Hospices de Beaune organisation. Thus, when Maurice knocked on the door of the hospital that fateful night, his face was both familiar and well-loved by the organisation's nuns - and so he was taken in and hidden for four months in the cellars of the Hospices de Beaune until the city was liberated in September 1944 - four months later.

And even as an exiled winemaker, Maurice managed to make wine in absentia. The head nun at the Hospices de Beaune met Maurice's wife, and she received her husband's instructions on how to make the wines - and how to run the business.

As a thank you for the hospital saving his life, Maurice donated two hectares of his finest premier cru vineyards to the organisation, from which they sell wine every year through their famous Hospices de Beaune auction.

Hospices de Beaune Acquéreur: RareWine Hospices de Beaune Acquéreur: RareWine

The Annual Auction: A Favourite For Connoisseurs

Every year on the third Sunday in November, the world's most famous charity wine auction is held: the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction. Here, wine connoisseurs and professional wine merchants from all over the world travel here to experience the famous auction, relive the history and perhaps secure a lot of the coveted releases.

The auction serves as an international barometer of the market, but because charity is at the heart of the auction, prices will be significantly higher than usual. The original purpose of the auction was to fund the running of the Hospices de Beaune, which of course still applies, although several charitable organisations now benefit from the proceeds of the auction.

Domaine Drouhin: RareWine x Hospices de Beaune

The wine from the 60 hectares of vineyards is vinified in the Hospices de Beaune winery under the expert guidance of winemaker Ludivine Griveau. The wines are sold as a kind of en primeur, which is why it is always the current vintage that is auctioned in November.

Although Maurice Drouhin's donated parcels are officially owned by Hospices de Beaune, Drouhin always buys the specific barrel from the 2 specifically Maurice-donated parcels. This means that only they bid on the wine, although in reality, anyone can bid on the wine through Drouhin. In 2021, RareWine had the honour of the highest bid for the 2021 Hospices de Beaune Cuvée Maurice Drouhin through Domaine Drouhin. Every year after the auction, Drouhin takes the wine home and vinifies it, after which it is shipped to the buyer. And so it happened that RareWine now has the honour of distributing the 2021 Hospices de Beaune Cuvée Maurice Drouhin, and because we won the auction, this particular bottle has also been inscribed with "Acquéreur: RareWine": Buyer: RareWine.

Guigone-de-Salins and Nicolas Rolin certainly never imagined that their desire to help poor, sick souls in Burgundy would result in wine charity on an international scale. And they certainly didn't think that their project would last for centuries: that in the 21st century they would still be helping people in need, funded by wine connoisseurs in search of the best of Burgundy. But it so happened that RareWine also got a small piece of Maurice Drouhin's legacy via Hospices de Beaune from the 2021 vintage - now it just needs to be aged and matured so that future wine lovers can enjoy mature Burgundy from the world's most famous wine auction.

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