March 17, 2009 / 1:09 PM / 10 years ago

St-Emilion wines remain without classification

BORDEAUX (Reuters Life!) - Bitter tears are falling in some glasses of ruby red Saint-Emilion wines after a Bordeaux court confirmed an earlier ruling throwing out the latest classification of one of France’s best known wine areas.

This means that some bottles of the 2006 and 2007 harvest need to change their labels, while the 2008 and 2009 vintages are in limbo.

But it’s not just a tempest in a French tea cup. The dispute over classification has already hit exports.

In August the United States barred some Saint-Emilion wines fearing the labels did not accurately describe the contents, with some 2006 and 2007 bottles carrying the wrong information.

The Bordeaux court on Monday upheld a lower court decision not to approve the Saint-Emilion classification for the 2006-2016 period because not all wines were produced in the same fashion.

“It is getting urgent to put a system in place to quickly establish a new classification,” said Philippe Thévenin, lawyer for some of the winemakers in the case.

“Only a new tasting on equal terms is now possible,’ he added. The Agriculture Ministry or the INAO wine classification body still have the option to go to the state council for a further ruling.

Earlier the French senate had proposed to keep the old classification in force until a new one was organized.

The mention of the ‘Grand Cru Classe’ classification is an important boost for wine sales, especially on export markets. The ‘bonus’ is 30 percent in the price of the bottle and a doubling of the price of the grapes at the vine.

Saint-Emilion is a Medieval village east of Bordeaux.

Created in 1955, the Saint-Emilion classification is the only one of its kind that is renewable every 10 years. Neighboring Bordeaux has remained almost completely fixed since its start in 1855 as a promotional list by Bordeaux wine traders for the Universal Exhibition in Paris.


At the heart of the dispute is a complaint by nine wine growers who did not get the rating they wanted.

They claimed that the committee which had drawn up the new classification — which has happened every 10 years since its creation in 1954 — was biased.

Traditionally, the wines of Saint-Emilion are a blend of different grape varieties, the main ones being Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are 800 winegrowers who produce some 450,000 hectoliters of wine, of which 159,000 hectoliters are classified wines.

The vineyards, combined with neighbors Pomerol and Fronsac, make up one 10th of the Bordeaux region wine growing area.

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 is no change in the top Premiers Grand Crus Classes A sector — those are still the family-owned Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc, which is owned by LVMH luxury goods group chairman Bernard Arnault and Belgian businessman Albert Frere.

The new 2006 ranking has 13 Premier Grand Clus Classees in the B segment, against 11 in 1996. Chateau Troplong-Mondot and Chateau Pavie-Macquin having been added to such names as Angelus, Belair, Canon and Figeac.

Among the “losers” of the Grand Crus were Chateau Bellevue, Cadet Bon, Faurie de Souchard, Guadet Saint-Julien, La Tour du Pin Figeac, Petit Faurie de Soutard, Tetre Daugay, Villemaurine and Yon Figeac.

And wines like Belfont-Belcier did not get the rating they wanted. “I feel like the sucker on service,” owner Dominique Hebrard told Reuters.

For more Reuters stories on wines see [nWINE]

Writing by Marcel Michelson, editing by Paul Casciato

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