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St Emilion classification suspended indefinitely

A Bordeaux court has ruled that the latest St Emilion classification will remain suspended until further notice.

The court rejected two requests to lift the suspension – calling one, from the Syndicat Viticole de Saint Emilion (the local winegrowers union) “inadmissable” – and the other, made by a group of 26 St Emilion chateaux, “ill-founded”.

The St Emilion classification, which is reviewed every ten years, was suspended at the end of March, following legal action by four chateaux that were demoted in the latest review, made public in September 2006.

The Court’s decisions mean the classification will remain suspended until the Tribunal makes a final decision, which could take up to a year.

‘We are disappointed,’ Emmanuelle Ponsan Dantin of the winegrowers union told decanter.com. ‘Now what we have to do is think things through with our lawyers and see what the best strategy is for the future.’ She would not speculate what this strategy might be.

Guy-Petrus Lignac of Chateau Guadet, one of the chateaux that took legal action to have the classification suspended, said he was not ‘rejoicing’ at the decision, but said the rejection of the requests confirmed there had been irregularities in the review. He hopes those involved will sit down and talk calmly about the way forward.

The suspension of the 2006 classification – combined with the expiration of the previous one (1996 – 2006) – leaves practicalities like pricing and labelling in turmoil.

‘This is likely to affect the prices of lesser known chateaux far more than the top 12 or 13, which are brands in their own right,’ said Simon Staples, sales director of UK merchant Berry Bros and Rudd. ‘The cru classés can get away with charging at a level that grand crus cannot.’

‘But {the quality} of St Emilion is already so erratic,’ he added, ‘and the suspension means there will be a whole raft of wines people aren’t sure about. It will be very difficult for producers to determine how to price them.’

As to what classification chateaux are allowed to put on their labels, this now becomes a matter for France’s fraud prevention authorities, which have not yet commented.

Written by Sophie Kevany

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