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Class Unrest in Bordeaux

Plus, an unauthorized M. Chapoutier fashion line in China, and cutting loose with the harvest olympics in Napa

Posted: September 20, 2012

• A lawsuit appears inevitable as St.-Emilion’s new classification comes under fire from two winegrowers who were booted from the rankings, Château Croque Michotte and Château La Tour-du-Pin-Figeac. Both have asked the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO) to reinstate their Grand Cru Classé status, citing anomalies in the classification process. A spokesperson for the INAO told Unfiltered that scenario was unlikely. While the anomalies will give the lawyers plenty of fodder, the winegrowers are raising issues that question the direction St.-Emilion has chosen with a classification that they say rewards homogenous soil types, expensive wine, slick reception facilities and media-savvy growers. “Give me a good budget, and I’ll make you a classified growth,” said Pierre Carle, owner of Croque Michotte. The quality of the wine only counted for 50 percent of the final score. “Where is the terroir?” he asked. Both Carle and La Tour-du-Pin-Figeac’s owners, the Giraud family, were nonplussed to see they had been penalized for having non-contiguous plots that did not surround the château. “That’s what gives wine complexity,” argued Carle. In La Tour-du-Pin-Figeac’s case, their estate was created when it split from Château Figeac in 1876, and their vineyards are within eyesight of the cellar, bordering Figeac and across the road from Cheval-Blanc. They were also told their wine was too cheap. Both sell for more than $13 ex-cellar en primeur. “I price my wine to sell, not to stock it,” said André Giraud. At Croque Michotte, they were penalized for having water in the soil, yet elsewhere in the audit, given high marks for a drainage system. They lost points for not moving toward sustainability, yet they have been certified organic since 1999. Curiously, they were also marked down for not having tourist lodgings, a seminar room or a full-time communications employee unrelated to the family. Lucile Carle was incredulous: “There are 100 Grand Cru Classé in St.-Emilion. How many seminar rooms do they need?”

• “Can we sue them or not?” is being asked in France's Rhône Valley this month as well. That’s the big question facing Michel Chapoutier, the Rhône-based négociant and grower, in a brewing trademark-infringement case in China. The answer could hinge on whether or not “M. Chapoutier” is sufficiently famous. The alleged transgression involves a women’s clothing line labeled M. Chapoutier, which was spotted by the winemaker’s daughter Mathilde, a business school student in Beijing, while surfing the Internet. “I was really surprised. Normally we protect our wine around the world only in the wine and spirits category, Class 33, which already costs a lot,” Michel Chapoutier told Unfiltered. There are 45 international trademark classes, 34 for goods ranging from whips to railway tracks. Clothing is Class 25. So far there isn’t any indication as to why the Chinese company zeroed in on the Rhône producer. China only represents 3 percent of his business, and none of his company’s promotional clothing is manufactured in China. “All of our T-shirts and things are made in France.” His lawyers are currently looking into a loophole in Chinese law that would give him the legal heft to go after the clothing manufacturers. Heightened trademark protection is given in China for brands that are considered "famous." In the meantime, Chapoutier decided to go public. “I wanted to warn other winemakers: This could happen to anyone.”

• Harvest is under way in California. The end-of-the-long-day beers are being chilled, the mechanical harvesters are fueled up, and the harvest interns have reported for duty. It's the beginning of a tough two months for the interns, who are rewarded with valuable winery experience for long hours of grueling manual labor. Some wineries do their best to lighten the mood during all that hard work, and at Napa's Round Pond, that includes allowing the intern team to select a theme each vintage, which can include naming the tanks, costume parties and feats of strength. In past vintages the Round Pond squad has celebrated the great philosophers (2007), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ('08), '80s hair bands ('09), martial arts movie stars ('10) and, last year, James Bond villains and women. The 2012 crew has elected to celebrate the Olympics, naming tanks for past and present female champions like the Williams sisters, the current gymnastics team, volleyballers Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh and even 4th century chariot champion Princess Kyneska of Sparta. The Missy Franklin tank received the first Sauvignon Blanc of the vintage, on Sept. 5. What we're really interested in, however, are Round Pond's "harvest olympics." Winemaker Brian Brown shared this year's T-shirt design with us, featuring six events: bin dumping, punch downs, barrel throwing, tasting, cleaning and pallet-jack racing. Unfiltered is only good at one of those events.

James Burgunder
Rheinfelden —  September 23, 2012 8:22am ET
I also saw this advertisement last week in Beijing and I thought it was odd that a winemaker was expanding his brand into retail clothing. In a way, I am relived that this was not authorized as I respect the brand - but only in the context of wine.

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