St Emilion’s original two Grand Cru Classe A estates have ‘thrown a rock into the pool’, confirming their decision to withdraw from their AOC’s classification system, sending shock waves across the region.
Unlike the Medoc & Graves evergreen classification, which has remained intact since 1855, apart from Mouton Rothschild’s upgrade from Second to First Growth in 1973 and Cantermerle’s addition as a Fifth Growth in 1856, the St Emilion banding system is reviewed every decade. First introduced in 1955, one hundred years after the Left Bank classification, the St Emilion Commission for the Classification is now considering the applications for the 2022 update.
The last revision of the classification saw Angelus and Pavie upgraded to join Ausone and Cheval Blanc as the only Grand Cru Classe A estates. This move elevated the new additions to be more formally recognised as comparative producers in terms of quality to the Left Bank First Growths and of course the original two Right Bank ‘super-stars’. This is rarified company which bestows extraordinarily valuable kudos and commercial recognition. The fact that there is no review process for the 1855 classification means that the First Growths have their positions seemingly marked out for eternity – there is no way to break into that club.
Given that certain criteria is linked to the actual terroir and heritage of producers, one could argue that these are unique, how can they be compared? And why wouldn’t the likes of Ausone and Cheval Blanc fight to protect that uniqueness.
Ausone’s Pauline Vauthier states “It’s not that we feel that we are above the classification at all, or that we don’t need it, that would be awfully pretentious. It’s just that we don’t see ourselves in the criteria.”
The commission for the classification, which reviews the benchmark criteria and the chateaux applications every decade, has added visitor experience, press coverage, social media presence and sales to tastings of the last 10 – 15 vintages to the original requirements. Certainly these conditions would not have been an issue to two of the foremost fine wine brands in the world.
Owned by LVMH, Cheval Blanc’s Technical Director, Pierre-Olivier Clouet explained their decision to withdraw now “the areas for evaluation went too far beyond what we considered fundamental: the terroir; the wine; the history.”
Both Ausone and Cheval Blanc have removed their second and other owned wines from the classification. Commentators are questioning the impact this will have on the region’s system to guide the market. The once-a-decade review has resulted in legal action and wranglings this Century and this move by the original two greats of the region will have the Bordelais in a ‘brouhaha’.
For more information on understanding the classification systems of Bordeaux and the impact of any changes on wine investments see our Guide to Collecting and Investing in Fine Wine and contact the Vin-X team on 0203 384 2262.