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New St Emilion classification approved

After four years of drama, confusion and near-farce, a new St Emilion classification will come into effect from the 2012 harvest.

The French appellations body, the INAO, has finally approved the new regulations, almost exactly four years since the 2006 classification collapsed into a legal morass.

The classified wines of Saint Emilion are the only ones in the world to submit to a 10-year classification, where chateaux are revised upwards and downwards depending on quality.

Following rancorous disputes over the 2006 classification – brought by chateaux that had lost their status – the system has been in limbo.

Drama turned to black comedy, then farce as a compromise was reached whereby promoted chateaux kept their new status, but demoted chateaux also remained classified.

There are currently 72 classified estates, covering 880 hectares, or 16% of Saint Emilion’s 5,500 hectares of vines.

Now a new classification is in sight, with the main change being an independent organisation to monitor the decision-making process – and to ensure it is proof against legal challenges. This contract is currently out to tender.

‘We are all happy to be nearing the end of this difficult episode, and we are committed to the importance of the classification. To ensure that everything is fully independent, we can’t get too involved in the details,’ Chateau Angélus owner and former president of the appellation, Hubert de Bouard, told Decanter.com.

‘Everything is being done through the INAO, not by us in Saint Emilion,’

The new classification will be administered by a commission of seven INAO members, none of whom come from Bordeaux.

Ten vintages, from 1999 to 2008, will be tasted, or 15 vintages if a promotion from grand cru classé to premier grand cru classé is being considered. Other criteria such as quality of technical equipment, hygiene of the winery and reputation of the estate will be taken into account.

‘Tasting samples will count for at least 50% of the final mark,’ INAO president Yves Bénard explained at the announcement this week.

The classification’s legal status has been changed: it is technically no longer a competition but an exam. This means properties can challenge their classification without challenging the system as a whole.

Chateaux must submit their dossiers during the first week of 2011, and should expect to pay significantly more than the €1500 submission fee in previous years.

‘Engaging a third party and following all of these rigorous procedures inevitably has a cost,’ said de Bouard. ‘But it is essential if the classification is going to stand up.’

Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux

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