I read recently that a winemaker, unhappy with the results of his latest efforts, was considering "declassifying" his wine. What does this mean?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I read recently that a winemaker, unhappy with the results of his latest efforts, was considering "declassifying" his wine. What does this mean?

—Lee Hammack, Richmond, Va.

Dear Lee,

If winemakers are unhappy with their wine (or grapes)—and if they have integrity—they will "declassify" it. Simply put, it means they won't use it as they'd originally planned, but more specifically, it usually suggests that they will either sell it on the bulk wine market (where someone else can bottle it and sell it at a reduced price) or they will bottle it themselves, but with a less prestigious appellation and at a lower price point. For example, a Burgundy producer might declassify a poor premier cru and bottle it as a village wine or even as just a regional Bourgogne.

Declassifying is costly to vintners, as it always means they're taking a financial loss (which is probably better than having their reputations tainted). Occasionally you'll hear about vintners who declassify an entire vintage because the wine is not up to par.

—Dr. Vinny

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