Bordeaux's Cru Bourgeois denomination was reborn this past week with the ratification of the revisited classification system by the French Ministries for Agriculture and for Consumer Protection. Under the new scheme, any Médoc château can now apply to use the term. This translates to a distinct break from the previous ranking system, with its fixed hierarchy of wine estates.
As of the 2008 vintage, the right to use the term Cru Bourgeois will be renewed annually. Bureau Veritas, an independent entity, will evaluate candidates, checking on a regular basis to make sure they meet a range of criteria, including the condition of an estate's grounds, vineyards and winemaking facilities. The agency will also oversee blind tastings of every vintage submitted to a jury of Bordeaux professionals.
Cru Bourgeois has now become a sort of stamp of approval, rather than a classification. Bordeaux's Alliance Crus Bourgeois, a promotional organization representing close to 300 Médoc châteaus, is behind the initiative. Over the past two years it has been searching for a solution to the Administrative Court of Bordeaux's cancellation of the first official Crus Bourgeois classification in February 2007. Various properties had challenged the classification after the publication of the list in June 2003.
Before then the term referred to an unofficial classification of 444 Médoc châteaus designated by Bordeaux wine brokers back in 1932. When an official classification was created, some of the unsuccessful applicants immediately contested the selection procedure, claiming it was biased. The court ruled in their favor.
This time round, 290 producers have requested the right to use the term. The higher-ranking denominations from 2003—Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel—have been set aside for the moment. As a result, many of the châteaus previously benefiting from these terms do not wish to be associated with the new system. "It lacks the prestige and charm of the traditional classification and will not add marketing value to our wines," said Philippe de Laguarigue, managing director of Château Labégorce-Zédé and Château Labégorce, both in Margaux and formerly classified as Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel and Cru Bourgeois Supérieur, respectively.
But candidates vying for the new label hope that it will be recognized as a genuine gauge of quality in years to come. "The term Cru Bourgeois is well-known in Germany and Denmark, but needs to be developed elsewhere," explained François Nony, the owner of Château Caronne Sainte Gemme in Haut-Médoc. "To succeed, the new label must guarantee a standard of quality and wines offering a good value for money whatever the price."