Wine prices at the 122nd annual wine auction yesterday at the Hospices de Beaune were up for the French and down for the Americans, which should keep both sides of the Atlantic happy.
The record-breaking harvest for '82 means the French will have more wine to sell than in any recent year, and the strength of the dollar means the American consumer will find it affordable.
Although overall prices at the auction were up 11 percent in francs, they were down 14 percent in dollars. The value of the franc, in dollar terms, has fallen by 22 percent since last fall's harvest in France.
Red wine prices at the auction were up 5.6 percent in francs but down 17.5 percent in dollars. White wine prices rose 58 percent in francs but only 26 percent in dollars.
Beaune is the center of the wine trade in Burgundy, and the annual sale at the 15th-century hospices is attended by hundreds of wine buyers and wine lovers throughout the world. Only wines from a small section of Burgundy, vineyards owned by the hospices, are auctioned at this sale, but prices received set the stage for wine prices throughout Burgundy. The auction price level is regarded by those in the wine business as a barometer for wine prices worldwide. The 1982 red wines are "fruity, elegant and supple," the whites "particularly rich" and with "a fine bouquet," according to the official jury verdict.
Among this year's American buyers was the Watergate Hotel. Nicholas Salgo was part of a three-member consortium that bought nine casks of pommard.
Since the wines are sold by lots of as many as 34 casks, consortium buying is the usual procedure at the auction. Each cask contains 228 liters, about 60 gallons, or enough for 24 cases.
If Salgo split his purchase evenly with the other consortium members, Bouchard Pere et Fils, Beaune and Liquor Plaza Ohkoshi in Japan, then the Watergate will have 72 cases of Pommard, Hospices de Beaune.
The '82 harvest broke all records and is "the biggest harvest ever" in Burgundy, said Andre Gagey, president of Louis Jadot, Beaune.
Wine producers and shippers in Burgundy had been worried about escalating prices in recent years and were concerned about pricing themselves out of the American market.
This year is "the harvest they need" in Burgundy, said Robert Joseph, editor and publisher of The Burgundy Report, a quarterly English language newsletter published in Meursault. Joseph predicted "a real drop in burgundy prices overall of 20 to 25 percent for reds and maybe 10 to 15 percent for whites" by next spring.
This year's good news may augur well for next year, too. "There is a tendency for one big year to follow another and negotiants here wish, and expect, low '82 prices to set the tone for almost a four-year period," Joseph said.
The '82 wine quality is "100 percent better" than last year, said Andre' Porcheret, who supervises the 23 vineyards and winemakers for the hospices. "I know because I am responsible for the vines and the wine," he said.
"Extremely nice and a very good color" was the verdict of a former Washingtonian, Baron Paternotte de la Vaillee, as he sampled his first '82 wine in the cellar of Le Cep, a traditional Burgundian hotel in Beaune.
Baron de la Vaillee, Belgian ambassador to France and honorary chairman of the auction, was financial attache' in the Belgian Embassy during the Truman administration and worked on Belgian participation in the Marshall Plan.
"And that's a true reaction, not an ambassadorial reaction," the baron added.