YOLANDA No. 3
By John Salvi
TRIO OF BORDEAUX CLASSIFICATIONS
Everybody, or at least everybody who has an interest in wine, knows about
the Grands Crus Classés of Bordeaux, about the First Growths, and
perhaps about the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Growths, and the 1855 classification.
It is a Bordeaux landmark and one of the first things that one learns
about Bordeaux wines.
What fewer people know is what the 1855 classification was all about,
and that there are not only Crus Classés, but also Crus Bourgeois
and Crus Artisans. The last of these three is regretfully little known!
Let us have a look at them.
Firstly, and most famously, the Grands Crus Classés in 1855. The
notion of “Crus” first appeared as long ago as the 17th Century. The brokers
of that time, a new and increasingly important profession, needed criteria
to fix the prices – quality of the wine, integrity of owner, and care
and state of the vineyard. One of the very first brokers, for the finest
wines of Bordeaux, was Lawton, and he and others started drawing up their
own ratings from about 1730.
In 1855, Napoleon held the Great Universal Exhibition in Paris. The Imperial
Commission requested the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce to draw up a list
of the finest and best red and white wines. As they had already become
world famous, the Médoc and Sauternes were chosen. The Bordeaux
Chamber of Commerce had been founded already on 26/5/1705.
The request was made late and time was short. Fortunately the experts
selected to do the job had all the necessary information available. The
request was made, on 5th April, and the lists prepared and submitted two
weeks later, on 18th April. There were two lists – «Vins Rouges
Classés du Département de la Gironde», and a similar
list for “Vins Blancs Classés du Département de la Gironde”.
Their Classification was a work of conscientious expertise and became
the cornerstone of the Bordeaux hierarchy. All other previous ratings
and classifications were discarded. The only changes that have been made
to this, in the 150 years since its creation, are the inclusion of Chateau
Cantemerle, as 5th Growth, on 16/9/1855, and the elevation of Mouton Rothschild
to First Growth, in June 1973. The 1855 Classification has just celebrated
its 150th anniversary with a momentous dinner at Chateau d’Yquem, during
Vinexpo 2005, and the publication of a great book entitled “Bordeaux Grands
Crus Classés 1855-2005”, published by Flammarion.
Now let us look at the Crus Bourgeois. Unfortunately this noble category
has recently covered itself with ridicule, due to the mismanagement of
the long awaited new classification, which was published in June 2003.
In the 12th Century the “Bourgeois” were granted rights and privileges
already, particularly with regard to exemption from taxes and duties.
In the 15th Century, these Bourgeois acquired some of the best vineyard
lands, which gradually became known as Crus Bourgeois. We then jump forward
to 1932, when the wine brokers, with the authority of the Chamber of Commerce
and the Chamber of Agriculture, distinguished 444 Crus Bourgeois. These
were registered with the Chamber of Commerce, on 28/4/1932. IMPORTANTLY
they were NEVER officialised by the Ministry of Agriculture, and so were
not protected by law. The use of the term “Bourgeois” was, however, defined.
In 1962, the Syndicat des Crus Bourgeois was founded (Union des Médoc
Crus Bourgeois) by just 94 of those 444. Indeed, those that had survived.
Later, in 1966 and 1978, came two further rankings. Between 1980 and 1990,
the high quality of many of these Crus Bourgeois encouraged usurpation
of the word “Bourgeois”, possible to use without restraint, especially
as it was not protected by law.
In 1979, the European Labelling Laws recognised “Crus Bourgeois” as long
as codified by the French Government. Thus it became urgent and vital
to put in place the legal and official framework, which had not been done
in the past. After a long and arduous struggle, and great persistence,
on 30/11/2000, a Ministerial Decree established the criteria and the organisational
framework for an official classification. Another, on 17/6/2003, formally
recognised the First Official and Legal Classification of the Crus Bourgeois.
In the classification, only 247 out of 490 candidates were classified.
Total uproar ensued. Rejected candidates brought court cases and law suits
galore. In desperation, the status of the Syndicate was changed and it
became the “Alliance des Crus Bourgeois. Thierry Gardinier, owner of Chateau
Phélan-Ségur, became its President, and an official administrative
office was established.
No less than 77 Chateaux had appealed and, in November 2004, their appeals
were upheld by the Bordeaux Administrative Tribunal. They were exempted
from the new classification and enjoyed Status Quo. Irregularity was proven,
because four Bourgeois owners and candidates were also among the 18-member
jury, who had been elected by Ministerial Decree on 30/11/2000. This was
surely very clumsy, but almost certainly not intentionally dishonest!
On 24/1/2005, the Ministry of Agriculture officially requested the Bordeaux
Chamber of Commerce to oversee a re-examination of the 77. They are now
being re-judged, according to identical criteria, and judgement is expected
before the end of 2006. This will be final, with no right of appeal.
Today, pending the re-examination results, there are 247 Chateaux classified
into three categories: Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnels (9 of them), Crus
Bourgeois Supérieurs and Crus Bourgeois. Between them they have
a turnover of 300 Million Euros and cover 7200 Hectares. They produce
385 Million bottles and account for 2400 jobs. The classification will
be reviewed and updated every twelve years.
And so, finally, we can look at the very much smaller, but no less honourable,
Crus Artisans. Like the Crus Bourgeois, they have been an accepted and
respected, nay revered, part of the Bordeaux hierarchy for centuries,
but have never been officialised. “Bordeaux et ses Vins”, the Bordeaux
bible, talks about them in their 1868 edition. However they more of less
disappeared in the catastrophic 1930s, when a small group survived and
formed a Syndicat. They are far too overlooked and ignored. Being, in
essence, small properties, they cannot afford expensive publicity and
The term ARTISAN was recognised by the European Union, in 1994, and after
a long eleven-year struggle, on 3/5/2002, a Ministerial decree fixed the
criteria and organisational framework for an official classification.
A jury of 11 was elected. This was made up from: « Chamber of Commerce
and Industry », « Gironde Chamber of Agriculture »,
« Fédération des Grands Vins de Bordeaux » as
well as the « Comité Régional des Vins et Eaux de
Vie de l’Institut National des Appellations d’Origine pour le Sud-ouest
». Applications and dossiers had to be in by April 2003. Deliberations
ensued. In February 2005, the jury presented its findings to the committee.
In July, the committee sent it to the Ministry of Agriculture and the
Ministry of Economy and Finance, having had it validated by the INAO (Institut
Nationale des Appellations d’Origine). It was signed, on 2/1/2006, and
the notice appeared in the Official Gazette of 11/1/2006. Today the term
“Crus Artisan” is legally protected for the first time, and a total of
44 properties have the right to the term. Their chief aim and object,
and their struggle for recognition over so many years, is finally accomplished
and the classification is valid for ten years from the 2003 vintage.
Between them they cover 340 Hectares of Médoc vineyards. 13 are
AOC Médoc, 22 are AOC Haut-Médoc, 1 is AOC Listrac, 4 are
AOC Margaux, 1 is AOC Moulis, 1 is AOC Saint Julien, 1 is AOC Pauillac
and 1 is AOC Saint Estephe. Good luck to them!!