2019 Hospices de Beaune Syndicate Update and 2020 Vintage Preview

It is a rare opportunity to own a personalised cuvée purchased at the annual Hospices de Beaune auction, and rarer still to influence the winemaker’s decision making on your preferred style of Meursault.  This is exactly what happened at our recent Zoom meeting with Domaine de Montille’s head winemaker Brian Sieve and the Honest Grapes 2019 Hospices de Beaune Syndicate.

What is the Hospices de Beaune?

Chancellor Nicolas Rolin founded the Hôtel Dieu (later to be known as the Hospices de Beaune) in 1443 to serve as a hospital and safe haven for the poor.  Over the years, more than 60 hectares of Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards have been donated to the estate.  Since 1859, on the third weekend of November, the Hospices de Beaune has held an annual wine auction to raise money for the hospital’s upkeep and other charitable projects.  Christies has organised the auction since 2005, taking international bids from parties interested in the 45 cuvées blended across the prestigious Côte de Beaune sites.

How did we get our hands on 2019 Hospices de Beaune barrels?

The 2019 vintage was the first year that Honest Grapes participated in the Hospices de Beaune auction.  Following in-depth consultations (and off-the-record tips) from prominent Burgundian minds, Head Wine Guru Tom and Chairman & Co-Founder Nathan secured two barrels of 1er Cru Pommard and one barrel of Meursault for Club Members who invested in the inaugural crowdfunding syndicates.  The maturation and finishing of the wines are currently taking place at Domaine de Montille under the scrutinous eye of Brian and his team.

How is the 2019 vintage developing?

Brian didn't need much encouragement to taste the 2019 Domaine de Hospices Meursault and Pommard on the call - they are already staggering wines, with huge promise and potential.

Brian Sieve Discussing Meursault
De Montille Head Winemaker Brian Sieve discussing the Meursault

The De Montille Meursault has in previous years received impressive reviews from journalists for good reason.  Here in 2019 it has purity and elegance, with rich concentration of fruit and tremendous length.  The body is opulent and creamy.. think whole milk versus skimmed.  The acidity is spot-on at this early stage, and the wine is certainly of sufficient depth to stand up to further elevage in new oak, should the syndicate choose to follow that route (more on this later).  Given the flavour, texture and acidic profile, the 2019 Meursault will be drinking straight out of the gates, but cellar it for 15-20 years and it will become something rather more special.

Despite being harvested from one of the hottest and driest years on record, the Pommard is showing a beautiful aromatic profile and deep concentration of fruit.  Brian made the decision to remove one of the two barrels from new oak as soon as it was received from the Hospices earlier this year to preserve some of the nuances of flavour from the terroir.  The wine is translucent in colour with less extraction than the 2018 vintage but remains elegant and balanced.  The bright, fresh blood orange characteristic of the iron-rich soils of Pommard is clearly present alongside a hint of spice.  This wine will benefit from further aging, but should be approachable within five years from release.

How will the winemaking decisions happening now affect the style of the wine?

To oak or not to oak, that is the question.  At the end of October, a decision needs to be made on whether to keep the Meursault maturing in new oak or to rack it into an older neutral barrel for its second winter.  This was the question posed to the syndicate for their input.

In some years, Brian would argue against keeping the Chardonnay in new oak for fear of overwhelming the wine.  However, the 2019 Meursault could go either way: it has the acidic structure and aromatic profile to support the new oak flavours but could equally benefit from the added tension that would be retained in the more reductive environment of the neutral barrel.  

There are several considerations:

  • Food pairing.  In Brian’s opinion, the modern fresh style of Meursault is more food friendly while the richness of the oak-aged style is better appreciated on its own.  
  • Time.  It  will take 4-5 years for the new oak to absorb and integrate with the wine, but if racked the wine could be enjoyed much earlier. 
  • Style.  Ultimately, the decision will likely come down to style: whether the syndicate will prefer a wine of precision (to rack) or opulence (leave in new oak).

The jury is still out.

Tom, Etienne de Montille & Brian tasting barrel samples
Tom, Etienne de Montille & Brian tasting barrel samples

What are the quality and style predictions for the 2020 vintage?

The 2020 Burgundy vintage is considered to have exceptional potential despite the short growing season.  Harvest was early (around the 20th August) and the lack of rain that month resulted in a very concentrated juice.  Impressively, phenolic ripeness was reached while maintaining a high level of acidity.  Fermentation and extraction happened quickly: Domaine de la Montille left their Pinot Noir on skins for only two weeks compared to the historic three.  

The 2020 wines are characterised by fresh fruit and acidity.  The reds have a full fruit profile with great tannin structure and presence.  The whites are rumoured to rival 2014 - the vintage of the decade (perhaps even century!) - with great concentration, soaring acidity, low PH and expansive texture.  It's a source of huge encouragement to see Burgundy's winemakers rise above yet another hot vintage clearly impacted by global warming. 2020 is already showing huge promise and we can't wait to see how they will develop over the next 12 months!

How can you get involved in the 2020 Hospices de Beaune syndicate?

We are finalising the share allocation for the 2020 Hospices de Beaune syndicate over the next couple of weeks.  We are delighted to welcome new members but shares are highly limited and with the Hospices taking place in only a few weeks, the deadline is looming. More information about the syndicate can be found in our brochure here.  With only a few hundred bottles produced, this is a unique opportunity to add something special to your cellar.

Catch up on the full conversation with Brian Sieve here.