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By John Salvi
July 2006


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 high-profile promotions.
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!!

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