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BEAUNE, France (Reuters Life!) - An "exceptional" 2009 vintage of Burgundy wines sent sales sharply up at the annual Beaunes Hospices charity auction on Sunday.
The sale traditionally sets a price marker for the latest vintage and is one of the highlights of the French wine year.
The Beaune Hospices was founded by Nicolas Rollin, the chancellor of the Duke of Burgundy who began planting vines 550 years ago. The auction raises funds for the public hospital and this year for a charity providing meals for the homeless.
Sales volumes this year were up strongly at 799 barrels of 228 litres each against 455 in 2008. Roland Masse, the Hospices winemaker said 2009 had been an "exceptional" year for quality and volume due mainly to sunny weather in August and September.
A bid of 81,000 euros ($120,500) was accepted for the "piece du president" or president's barrel, a double lot of a barrel of Meursault-Charmes premier cru Albert Grimault white wine and one of Corton Grand Cru Charlotte Dumay red wine.
The Burgundy wine sector overall though is still suffering from the effects of the economic crisis with both domestic and export sales down sharply, Louis-Fabrice Latour, president of the local federation of Burgundy traders and producers said.
"The autumn wine fairs didn't do very well and the crisis is weighing on buying," Latour told reporters.
Major export markets including the United States and Britain have seen big falls and even the domestic French market, which accounts for just over half the total, down 10 percent.
Over the first nine months of the year, the U.S. market, the biggest export market for Burgundy wines, fell by 44 percent.
"But things appear to have picked up since September and we're hoping to finish the year down 30 percent," Latour said.
Overall exports are down 29 percent over the first nine months but Latour said the crisis was not as bad as some previous downturns, notably a severe slump in the early 1990s.
"It's a clear fall which has taken us back to the level of 2006 but you have to keep it in perspective, it hasn't got to the levels seen in 1991," he said.
Reporting by Catherine Lagrange; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Jon Hemming