Europe Economy

L’Austerite a la Francaise: City Sells Prized Wines


Times must really be getting hard in France.

The city of Dijon has just sold off half of its prized municipal wine cellar to help fund local social spending – including a bottle of 1999 Burgundy knocked down at auction for 4,800 euros to a Chinese buyer.

In total, the capital of the Burgundy region raised 151,620 euros from the "historic sale" of 3,500 bottles that were part of a collection built up since the 1960s, it announced in a statement on Monday.

Francois Rebsamen, the Socialist mayor who ordered Sunday's auction, explained: "We have overall a good budget this year, but the social action spending of the city just keeps going up. There are more and more of our co-citizens who are appealing for social aid."

The auction, held in a grand salon in a former palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, drew hundreds of people, some from across Europe and Asia, according to the local website, Infos-Dijon.

The top attraction was a bottle of Vosne-Romanee Cros Parantoux, premier cru de 1999. Placed on a reserve of 1,000 euros, it sold for almost five times that price.

The buyer, according to Infos-Dijon, was "a mysterious Chinese" it named as Wang Dongming, who it said had come from Paris and waited patiently for the bottle to go under the hammer at the end of the auction. The sale was concluded to applause from the crowd and the wine experts advising the sale, it added.

President Francois Hollande's Socialist government has spent most of its first eight months in office earning a reputation for ramping up taxes on the rich to cover the country's budget deficit.

But Mr Hollande has warned local authorities that they must also shoulder some of the burden by accepting a spending squeeze as the government seeks to cut 60 billion euros by 2017.

The high tax regime recently prompted the actor Gerard Depardieu to march off to tax exile, flourishing a Russian passport granted him by President Vladimir Putin.

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Now it seems hard times are also hitting the ability of the country's mayors to entertain in style.

"These grands crus are usually served at prestige dinners hosted by the city of Dijon, but they are also offered to welcome ambassadors, mayors of the great cities and other honored visitors," said Mr Rebsamen.

But his favored guests may yet be served a burgundy to savor, despite the auction.

The city said in its statement that 80 percent of the proceeds would go towards funding the community social action program. But the rest would pay for the cost of the auction – and to help replenish the now somewhat depleted municipal cellar.