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French Government Reinstates St.-Emilion Classification—Sort Of

The region's 1996 classification is reinstated, leaving out eight châteaus promoted in 2006

Diana Macle
Posted: July 29, 2008

Labeling wines isn't getting any easier in St.-Emilion. Just a week after a Bordeaux court struck down the Right Bank appellation's 2006 classification as unfair, the French senate intervened, reinstating the older 1996 château rankings until a new classification can be conducted. While that means some producers are happy, others are not, and their appeals are being ignored for now.

St.-Emilion's wine industry reclassifies its top producers every 10 years, and each time the ranking is legally contested by some of the losers in the reshuffling. The 2006 classification, overseen by the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine), the body in charge of French appellations, was not an exception to the rule. Out of 95 candidates, 61 châteaus were selected, including 46 Grands Crus and 15 Premiers Grands Crus.

Four châteaus demoted in the review—Château La Tour-du-Pin-Figeac, Château Cadet-Bon, Château Guadet and Château La Marzelle—immediately filed legal complaints, alleging that the classification commission, which consisted of members of the industry, was biased because some members had business with the properties under review.

The administrative court of Bordeaux struck down the Right Bank appellation's classification system on July 1, ruling that the classification process was not carried out in an objective manner, which meant any wine from 2006 or later could not be labeled as Grand Cru Classé or Premier Grand Cru Classé.

But just when it looked like Château Ausone 2006 might have to hit shelves as an unranked property, another level of the government intervened. The French senate voted on July 9 to reinstate the old 1996 rankings until the INAO can devise a new classification procedure, to be used for a new ranking by 2010.

That's all well and good for the châteaus in the 1996 classification (including the previously demoted estates) but the owners of eight châteaus that were promoted in the 2006 procedure are now upset. "They say they have saved the classification, but at our expense," lamented François Despagne of Château Grand Corbin-Despagne, which had retrieved its status of Grand Cru Classé in 2006 after being demoted in 1996. The properties include two that were promoted from Grand Cru Classé to Premier Grand Cru Classé—Pavie-Macquin and Troplong-Mondot.

Nadine Couraud, director of the St.-Emilion Wine Syndicate said she was satisfied that the senate had found a temporary solution but hoped that the eight châteaus would not be left on the sidelines. "The most logical solution would be for them to be added to the 1996 listing," she said.

Easier said than done, as their owners and Alain Moueix, president of the St.-Emilion Grand Cru Classé Association met with French Minister for Agriculture Michel Barnier last week but were told that there was "nothing he could do for them," according to Despagne. The situation is likely to lead to further legal wrangling, as the châteaus feel that they have been punished for a crime they did not commit. "We aren't going to accept this decision lying down, we'll take this injustice before the European courts if need be," Despagne said.

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