September 30, 2008 / 11:11 AM / 9 years ago

Saint-Emilion toasts tradition while clouds gather

SAINT-EMILION, France (Reuters Life!) - Wine growers toasted the 1199 creation of the Saint-Emilion Jurade this month with a pageant and tasting.

But with the latest classification in disarray and the harvest not looking brilliant the question is whether the future will be as grand as the past.

The Jurade, or guild, was created by a charter signed by English King John I, or John Lackland Duke of Normandy, in the days when Aquitaine and Normandy were under English rule.

Nowadays the guild aims to preserve its traditions but also promote the sale of wine across France and abroad from a region that is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The 60th anniversary of the 1948 resurrection of the Jurade was not without its hiccups. Guest of honor Prince Albert II of Monaco could not make it and vintners remain divided over the failure of the 2006 classification.

Saint-Emilion renews the classification of its wines every 10 years, unlike the 1855 classification of Bordeaux wines which has remained constant since it was set in the 19th century.

But the July 1 suspension of Saint-Emilion’s 2006 classification has meant that vintners have had to tear labels from any bottles mentioning the classification and slammed eight growers who had been included from this area of 5,400 hectares (13,340 acres) east of Bordeaux in south west France.

In early August, French parliament adopted a legal amendment allowing the 1996 classification to remain in force until 2009.

MASQUERADE

“It is a masquerade and a profound injustice to those people that have worked hard,” said one of the newly included growers, Dominique Hebrard of Chateau Bellefond-Belcier.

He and seven other “victims” have started legal proceedings to arrive at a solution.

The French state has also appealed, aware of the importance of the reputation of its wine industry and the need for quality labels in a world market where there is increasing competition from new world wines made in South America, South Africa, Australasia, the United States and now also China.

“We are trying to see with the lawyers how we can integrate them into the classification,” said Jean-Francois Quenin, president of the Saint-Emilion wine council.

“There is real damage for us, We hope that a solution can be found soon,” said Hebrard. “Today, it’s our passion for wine that keeps us going. I will continue to fight to make quality wines. Yes, I am still very angry but the climate in Saint-Emilion needs to become more peaceful one day,” he added.

A wine auction earlier this month raised 57,000 euros ($83,190) for a leprosy charity in India as mediaeval-style musicians played into the evening before a large fireworks display.

Guild members also held a procession on Sept 21 in their red robes through the narrow streets of the village to the church where a service was held and new members sworn in.

That afternoon, the official start of the harvest was proclaimed but the real harvest will still take some time.

Abundant late sun can still help to improve a year that has not benefited from good weather conditions.

The 2006 classification had 15 Premier Grand Crus Classees and 46 Grand Crus Classees out of 91 candidates.

Between the disputed 2006 classification and the expired 1996 classification there was no change in the top Premiers Grand Crus Classes A sector -- those are still the family-owned Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc.

A Cheval Blanc of the year 2000 sells for 1,350 euros per bottle and the Chateau Ausone 2000 sells for 3,490 euros per bottle. But one can still buy a Saint-Emilion wine for under 20 euros ($29).

Writing by Marcel Michelson, editing by Paul Casciato

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