St Emilion chateaux take Classification to court

  • Thursday 1 March 2007

Three St Emilion chateaux are taking their cue from the Cru Bourgeois debacle and going to court to have their classifications overturned.

Following a Bordeaux court’s decision Tuesday to annul the 2003 Cru Bourgeois classification, decanter.com has learnt that three chateaux declassified in last year’s Saint Emilion Classification have also filed suits.

Demotion in the ten-yearly St Emilion classification can knock at least a third off the price of the wine. It can also mean loss of distribution networks and devaluation of land. Speculators aggressively try to buy up stock of demoted properties at ludicrously low prices, one insider told decanter.com.

Chateau Villemaurine, Chateau Cadet Bon and Chateau Guadet-Saint-Julien, three of the 11 declassified properties, all claim the judgments were unsound.

The reasons are similar to those against the cru bourgeois classification – namely that some members of the jury were partisan.

Among the 10 jury members were two courtiers – who naturally had dealings with Saint Emilion chateaux – and a Bordeaux lawyer who was an advisor to one of the top-ranked chateaux in the appellation.

The three chateaux have also criticised the fact that they were given no reasons as to why they were declassified, and were not given the opportunity to contest the decision.

Guy Pétrus Lignac of Chateau Guadet-Saint-Julien told decanter.com, ‘The question is, was everything done within the rules? There are clearly many things that could be improved with the way the decision-making process was carried out.

‘This property has always been classified and has a wonderful terroir so I was just enormously surprised. I had the impression of being in an airplane, full of fuel, in full flight, and someone cut the gas without any warning.’

At the same time, St Emilion observers say that in many cases they were not surprised by some of the listings. Chateau Villemaurine, for example, ‘has long been ripe for demotion,’ one well-placed insider said.

Similarly, the presence of courtiers and other potential vested interests on the jury is not unusual. Jurors must have detailed knowledge of St Emilion and its wines so it is inevitable that they will have interests in certain chateaux.

Another – perhaps more legitimate gripe – is that a property must submit the ten most recent vintages to the commission.

But in the case of a recent change of ownership, since any improvement in quality will only be evident in the most recent vintages, the owner could be penalised for mediocre wines for which he was not responsible.

This may be the case with Cadet-Bon, demoted from Grand Cru Classé even though new owner Guy Richard, who has spent a fortune renovating the property, has only been in charge since 2001.

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