The Unlevel Playing Field that is St Emilion today

 A few personal thoughts from a independant bystander on the recent re-classification.


For me this photo of hands in soil sums up what wine is; the passing of a inate knowledge built up over time of a family from one generation to another.  The knowledge of a particular soil and how nature interacts in a particular vineyard to produce a quality fruit that is destined to become the best wine it can.

This photo is not taken in St Emilion but in Entre Deux Mers (Four generations of Vignoble Raymond, Bordeaux’s largest organic wine production). What has happened in the recent St Emilion classification saddens me and shows how far we have come from this.

Storm over St Emilio,
Storm over St Emilion

It seems to now be all about power, money and politics. Terroir is a side thought. When I see the thousands of euro lavished on the new members of the A team with all its gold leafing, it reminds me more of the grading for the Michelin star restaurants and the importance for them to have state of the art toilets. We have come a long way from the basic product. New money from outside of wine is being spent in its millions. Alongside you have the traditional family vignerons who can not afford to compete. Their money comes from selling wine. They are not playing on the same playing field.

I am no legal expert nor do I claim to understand exactly the intricacies of the classification. These are my misgivings about the recent 2012 Classification in St Emilion (it replaced the cancelled classification of 2006);

– there were a lot of confusing fusions of different châteaux  including some Grand Cru Classé becoming Premier Cru automatically. Five GCC  and one 1er GCC (B) disappeared amalgamated by their ‘maison-mère’ sometimes better classed  and in this case making a colossal capital gain!

Here are some examples of this inferior terroir being swallowed up by and becoming automtically upgraded in some instances from the basic GCC (Grand Cru Classé) to the very crème de la crème 1er GCC Premier Grand Cru Classé (A)! ;

Bergat GCC by Trotte Vieille 1er GCC (B)!

Matras GCC by Canon 1er GCC (B)!

Tour du Pin GCC by Cheval Blanc 1er GCC (A)

Curé Bon La Madeleine GCC by Canon  1er GCC (B)!

La Clusière GCC by Pavie 1er GCC (A)!

From what I understood this was why Beauséjour Bécot in 1986 was demoted from 1er GCC to GCC for intergrating the plots from its other property Ch La Carte.

– the increase of around 30% in terms of size of classified growth is a big jump including the upgrading of all 60 hectares of Ch Fombrauge owned by Bernard Magrez. There were a total of 22 upgrades (16 x GCC, 4 x 1ers, 2 x 1ers GCCA!). There were 800 hectares classified in 1996 divided between 68 properties (16% of the 5500 hectares of the AOC) to 1300 hectres in 2012 divided between 82 properties (24%). The soil has not changed. What has?

– for me Ausone and Cheval Blanc are far Superior to the new A team of Pavie and Angélus (its soils particularly are not the calibre of the rest). Both properties produce wines that are rich and powerful (new world in style) and do not have the finesse of thoroughbred Ausone or Cheval Blanc. For me they are not true St Emilion which for me is elegant and smooth with plenty of freshness. I would have preferred to see the elegant wines of Figeac, Clos Fortet or Canon promoted.

–  the leap-frogging of two ‘micro-cuvées’; garage wine Château Valandraud (Thunevin) and la Mondotte (von Neipperg), not classified at all previously

– there seem to be a severe ‘conflict of interests’ with château owners in the classification on the actual jury to validate it including Hubert de Bouard and Philippe Casteja.

“There is too much accent on parking, tasting facilities and toilets than the taste of the wine”

photo (17)

There is talk of Ausone not being happy and pulling out of the next classification in ten years time.

Taking the Classification to Court

Meantime three of the ‘losers’ of this classification (Pierre Carle – Croque Michotte, the Family Boidron represented by Emmanuel Boidron – Corbin Michotte and André Giraud La Tour du Pin Figeac, neighbours to Cheval Blanc) are taking the classification to court for errors and inconsistencies. Some St Emilion wine producers have helped them complie their cases (though wanting to stay anonymous). Others ‘cross the road’ wheb they see them coming……

The band of three do not want the classification to be cancelled just for their files to be re-opened and for the inconsistencies and down-right errors to be corrected.

I know and like the wine of Corbin Michotte, for me it is classic elegant St Emilion. It is made by a family of oenologists, Jean -Noel Boidron is famous for his research at the Faculty of Oenology for his work on the thresholds of aroma detection. They were awarded 13,82 points and needed 14 to pass despite having a superb new cellar and producing an excellent wine. Infact it was voted one of the best Grand Cru Classé in June 2012 at Vinexpo Hong Kong. There is something odd going on here it seems.

The new chai at Château Corbin Michotte base on the Ginko Tree which symbolises eternity
The new chai at Château Corbin Michotte base on the Ginko Tree which symbolises eternity

In addition to the errors there is another point of contention: conflict of interest. The classification is organised by the INAO and two of the winners of this classification are on the board, Hubert de Bouard and Philippe Casteja.

Just to rub salt into the wound the Syndicate of St Emilion has just added  further 15,000€ to the 45,000€ they have already spent to fight the cause rather than to find a solution. This money comes from the wine producers of St Emilion to which these three producers contribute! IOne year has already passed….

In Burgundy a vineyard is classified and stays that way. In Bordeaux there are a number of different classifications, different rules in every region. The main one exists since 1855 and classifies 61 properties in the Médoc. This was based on price. St Emilion is the only classification who do a rehaul every 10 years, promoting and demoting. Pomerol is perhaps the wisest appellation having no classification at all.The focus of the classification has changed. In the past it was one of the only Bordeaux classifications to be based on terroir, now it is based on price (like everything else) ……

Summarised aptly by Stephane Derenoncourt;

“Saint-Émilion était la seule appellation où les crus étaient classés en fonction des terroirs, maintenant on a l’impression que c’est très inspiré du 1855. »

Here is an earlier blog piece from me which explains what happened in the new classification;

Total of  82 Saint Emilion properties have been classified (out of 96 applications); 18 Premiers Grands Crus Classés and 64 Grands Crus Classés(the highest number since the second classification in 1969 when there were 84) compared to the eventual 74 in 2006. See list below.

The key facts about the new classification (released 6 september)

  • Angelus and Pavie were promoted to the highest Premier Cru Classé A alongside Ausone and Cheval Blanc – not Figeac despite a life-long battle by Thierry Manoncourt and continued by his son-in-law Eric d’Aramon. Both Angelus and Pavie command the highest prices, but considerably below the original two A holders). Figeac is some way behind in terms of price (currently the 2005 vintage in France pr bottle is around 100€ for Figeac, 300€ for Angelus and Pavie and 1600€ minimum for Ausone – Both properties produce wines that are rich and powerful and do not have the finesse of thoroughbred Ausone or Cheval Blanc. Alain Vauthier of Ausone refuses to comment on his new stable mates (not quite the same pedigree)…..
  • Demoted – Two château, Corbin-Michotte and la Tour du Pin Figeac (originally declassified in 2006 and reinstated automatically afterwards) were not reinstated. (Since 2006 Moeuix also own part of the original La Tour du Pin Figeac but call it La Tour du Pin but did not apply for it to be classified)
  • Several châteaux have merged so created confusion – La Magdelaine into Belair-Monange, Curé-Bon into Canon, la Clusière into Pavie, Cadet-Piola into Soutard, Bergat into Trotte Vielle, Matras into Canon, Haut Corbin into Grand Corbin – both applications to be premier were excepted.
  • A total of twenty two properties were upgraded and apparently only an additional dozen or so properties’ applications were refused to be upgraded or classified at the Grand Cru Classé level such as the organic Croque-Michotte – originally declassified in 1996, rejected again in 2006 it was its owner Pierre Carl who spear-headed the campaign which ended in the cancellation of the classification (eventually reinstated).
  • 17 properties were upgraded to Premier with no real surprises apart the leap-frogging of two ‘micro-cuvées’; garage wine Château Valandraud (Thunevin) and la Mondotte (von Neipperg), not classified at all previously
  • All the rest were expected including Larcis Ducasse (Nicolas Thienpont and Stephane Derenoncourt), de Ferrande, Canon La Gaffeliere (von Neipperg again), Faugères, Peby Faugères (Silvio Denz) and Fombrauge (all 60 ha! makes Magrez and even richer man). La Fleur Morange from the previously unclassified commune of St Pey d’Armens (on the road to Castillon) is an unexpected addition but worthy.
  • Another disappointed person must include Clement Fayat whose property, Château La Dominique is neighbours to Cheval Blanc stays as Grand Cru Classé and not Premier.


Premiers Grands Crus Classés :

Château Angélus (A) Château Ausone (A) Château Beauséjour (héritiers Duffau-Lagarrosse) Château Beau-Séjour-Bécot Château Bélair-Monange Château Canon Château Canon la Gaffelière Château Cheval Blanc (A) Château Figeac Clos Fourtet Château la Gaffelière Château Larcis Ducasse La Mondotte Château Pavie (A) Château Pavie Macquin Château Troplong Mondot Château Trottevieille Château Valandraud

Grands Crus Classés Château l’Arrosée Château Balestard la Tonnelle Château Barde-Haut Château Bellefont-Belcier Château Bellevue Château Berliquet Château Cadet-Bon Château Capdemourlin Château le Chatelet Château Chauvin Château Clos de Sarpe Château la Clotte Château la Commanderie Château Corbin Château Côte de Baleau Château la Couspaude Château Dassault Château Destieux Château la Dominique Château Faugères Château Faurie de Souchard Château de Ferrand Château Fleur Cardinale Château La Fleur Morange Château Fombrauge Château Fonplégade Château Fonroque Château Franc Mayne Château Grand Corbin Château Grand Corbin-Despagne Château Grand Mayne Château les Grandes Murailles Château Grand-Pontet Château Guadet Château Haut-Sarpe Clos des Jacobins Couvent des Jacobins Château Jean Faure Château Laniote Château Larmande Château Laroque Château Laroze Clos la Madeleine  Château la Marzelle Château Monbousquet Château Moulin du Cadet Clos de l’Oratoire Château Pavie Decesse Château Peby Faugères Château Petit Faurie de Soutard Château de Pressac Château le Prieuré Château Quinault l’Enclos Château Ripeau Château Rochebelle Château Saint-Georges-Cote-Pavie Clos Saint-Martin Château Sansonnet Château la Serre Château Soutard Château Tertre Daugay (Quintus) Château la Tour Figeac Château Villemaurine Château Yon-Figeac

One thought on “The Unlevel Playing Field that is St Emilion today

  1. Reblogged this on SIP Wine Blog – Bordeaux and commented:

    I have just heard from the St Emilion Syndicate that the 2012 St Emilion wine classification has been validated by the tribunal despite many inconsistencies. I am in contact with Emmanuel Boidron of the demoted Corbin Michotte to find out the truth…

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