Bordeaux's cru bourgeois châteaux are facing their first official classification since 1932 – but some growers believe the new system may not benefit them.

The scheme, spearheaded by the Syndicat des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, will group properties into three categories: Cru Bourgeois, Cru Bourgeois Supérieurs and the top level, Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnels. The aim is to give cru bourgeois producers a clearer hierarchy and make their wines more understandable for the consumer. Until now, the wines have simply been labelled ‘Cru Bourgeois’.

Dominique Hessel, president of Syndicat des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, said the ranking gives a better outline of cru bourgeois properties. ‘It is also recognition for our better producers and it provides real initiative for lower quality properties to raise their levels,’ he said.

With only a few weeks until the application deadline, Jean-Marie de Buhan of négociant Borie-Manoux feels all cru bourgeois properties must sign up. ‘The average consumers are lost when it comes to the range of these wines – we need to re-shuffle the cards inside the cru bourgeois,’ he said.

The optional scheme, which has an entry fee of FF3,000 (US$405), involves a property submitting a list of information, from history to vinification methods, as well as providing examples of their wine from six vintages (1994-1999), tasted by a jury. The classification results will be announced at Vinexpo 2003, and then revised every twelve years, similar to in Saint-Emilion.

Château Charmail’s Olivier Sèze thinks the Syndicat is missing the point with its criteria. ‘Wine is the only important thing for the consumer. For the Syndicat, it is a list of ten things.’ Sèze may not even apply to the project. ‘I am undecided, I really don’t think it would do us much good,’ he said.

Bigger cru bourgeois names, considered by many as making quality wine at the level of some classified growths, remain cautious. Phélan Ségur’s Thierry Gardinier has not decided whether to participate, and he said there are some other ‘maybes’ among the bigger châteaux.

Jean-Claude Rouzaud, vice president of Champagne house Louis Roederer and owner of Château de Pez, believes that better producers will profit from the move. ‘It will help the good producers and the cru bourgeois name – and I hope they declassify the lesser wines,’ he said.

Hessel said châteaux opting out could cause confusion. ‘It would be confusing if big names decide not to participate in the scheme – but hopefully consumers recognise big names from their reputation. The rest need classifying.’

Borie-Manoux boss, Phillipe Casteja, believes the scheme will be more useful for appellations with less-recognised properties, the Médoc in particular. ‘For other estates, it is not so important,’ he added.

Written by Tom Chippendale28 November 2001