Burgundy's answer to Obamacare

Burgundy's answer to Obamacare

In the 15c, Burgundy was an independent and powerful state, approximately five times the size it is today. It included the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. Dijon, where the Dukes of Burgundy held court, was one of the great European centres of art, learning, and science (and of course wine!)

It was in Dijon that the politicians built their mansions, and debated measures concerning the preservation of their fortunes, over a glass or two of Gevrey Chambertin!. The phrase ‘a Burgundian lifestyle’, is associated to this day, with fine wine, good food, and excellent entertainment, and it originated in these early days in Burgundy.

However, down the road in Beaune, things were not so rosy. The 100 Years War was drawing to a close, and poverty and famine were rife. The region was racked by the plague, and lacked adequate medical facilities. Apart from the good offices of the religious orders, nobody much cared if the poor lived or not, and Beaune had lost over half its population to disease.

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Back in Dijon, between 1444 and 1446, Philip 'the Good', then Duke of Burgundy, is estimated to have spent 2% of the total tax revenue of Burgundy with one Italian supplier of silk and gold cloth. Important to look the part!

Enter a beautiful 18 year old heiress by the name of Guigone. Guigone de Salins was one of the fortunate ones, at least from a material perspective. She came from a wealthy family of mixed Italian/Burgundian descent, which owned salt mines in the Jura, (salt in those days was as valuable a commodity as gold, used to preserve food on long voyages, and through the winter months when nourishment was scarce). Guigone decided ( or rather it was decided for her), to take as her husband, one Nicolas Rolin. Rolin was a 47 year old lawyer, who had made his fortune as Chancellor to Duke Philip. Notwithstanding two previous wives, and various offspring in and out of marriage, Nicolas was said to have eyes only for Guigone, and she for her part, was blessed with a generous and caring nature.

So which one of them decided to build the hospital? We can but guess! Perhaps it was a compromise?

In any event, together they designed and built a magnificent structure, the Hospices de Beaune, which today ranks as one of the finest examples of 15c architecture still standing. And by creating something in which the people of Burgundy could take pride and benefit, they helped to ensure the maintenance of the hospital's services over the next five centuries. However building the Hospices was the easy part. More difficult was to make it pay for itself. The Hospices was therefore endowed with a winery and some vines, and thereafter its operational funding came from the sale of the wine. Later landowners and businessmen of Burgundy followed the Rolin’s example, and also bequeathed vineyards to the Hospices. Today these vines extend to some 60 hectares of the finest plots in Burgundy. The wine is sold off at the annual charity auction in Beaune on the third Sunday in November each year. The celebrity event has become known as ‘Les Trois Glorieuses’ - three glorious days, a celebration of the lasting contribution of Guigone and Nicolas to healthcare in Burgundy. They created a hospital which did not require external funding, and not even President Obama was able to match that!

It should be noted however, that there is another ‘Les Trois Glorieuses’, which marks the end of the reign of Charles X of France. Following the introduction of a raft of unpopular measures, including an abortive attempt to gag the free press, and the imposition of the death penalty for blasphemy, Charles was King no more! It may be that taking medical care from those who cannot afford it, to fund tax cuts for those who don't need them, will prove to be just about as popular! We shall see!!

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