I view the 1855 classification as an aristocratic title. You are born a duke, baron or prince because one of your ancestors behaved as such before you. Whether or not you deserve the title today is a non-issue. But you would certainly not be regarded as such by a wider audience if you did not act as an aristocrat, with the appropriate behaviour.
It is the same with the 1855 classification, which is all about prestige and brand. It may not be based on the best expression of great terroirs, like the St-Emilion classification, but consumers and press will not hesitate to boycott its wines if price and quality do not match up to their ranking. There have been numerous examples of this since 1855.
It would be hard for Cos d’Estournel to move from being a duke to a prince (or first growth), for several reasons. The Médoc princes have never made better wines for so many years in a row, backed up by investment in quality and image.
For Cos to become an official first growth, we would probably have to sell our wine at a higher price than the first growths for many years in a row. Since the classification is based on price, this would be the only reason to technically revise it.
The first growths have been so efficiently and professionally run over the past 35 years that to join or usurp them would be very hard. And would we want to reopen the classification? Some of the cult wines of Napa would love California to have a long-established list of first growths.
It is a great frustration. But without the magic, history and quality of the first growths, Bordeaux would not be what it is today. All we can do is to operate at the highest possible level, (shown by our investment in the vineyard and new cellar), pushing the limits of quality and attention to detail. Like Formula One, where a small detail can make a huge difference,
Bordeaux is a perpetual race for investment, research and quality. Price increases have led to prosperity for châteaux, which has translated into huge investment and a great leap in quality. No doubt the first growths will follow Cos with new cellars and equipment. I’m sure they will do better than us, reinforcing their position as princes of the aristocratic classification.
Yes, there is frustration, but also the excitement and challenge of trying to eventually become a prince. But we would need another French Revolution for that, and I am not sure that President Sarkozy would agree to it…
Jean-Guillaume Prats is general manager of St-Estèphe second growth, Château Cos d’Estournel. Turn to p32 for Benjamin Lewin MW’s
article calling for an updated 1855 classification.
Written by Jean-Guillaume Prats