History is repeating itself as three chateaux have challenged the Saint Emilion 2012 Classification with legal action. The challenge to the previous Saint Emilion 2006 Classification caused chaos and the legal action over the 2012 Classification is not good news. Some people are questioning whether the constant infighting is worth it and whether Saint Emilion would be better off without a Classification at all. This is a difficult to judge as wine buyers and enthusiasts rely on Classification systems to rate the wines as well as Parker points – the 1855 Classification is a case in point. I think the Saint Emilion Classification is fairer than the 1855 Classification because it is held about every 10 years and chateaux can rise and fall through the ranks whereas the 1855 Classification is static and out-dated in some areas.
(I have a Table of Results which charts the changes through the Saint Emilion Classification from its very beginning in 1955 right up to date in 2012 here if you are interested.)
It’s the rise and fall of chateaux in the Saint Emilion Classification system that causes the problems, everyone enjoys a promotion but a demotion can cause ruin. I have some sympathy with the chateaux owners who struggle to attain promotion as a tremendous amount of money, sweat and tears goes into their attempt to rise in the ranks.
The chateaux that have taken issue with their ranking are Chateaux Croque Michotte, Corbin Michotte and La Tour du Pin Figeac (Giraud-Bélivier). Croque Michotte complained as soon as the results were announced – see my blogs Saint Emilion 2012 Classification Threatened and Saint Emilion 2012 Classification – Declassified Chateaux back in September. If this had been the only chateau to complain I doubt the 2012 Saint Emilion Classification would have been in danger but now another 2 chateaux have joined in there is trouble afoot indeed.
It seems Croque Michotte may feel victimised and there very well may be some bias against them in Saint Emilion itself (which is always a hotbed of rivalry and gossip – see my blog My Recent Trip to Bordeaux and Concerns About the New Saint Emilion Classification). Owned by Pierre Carle, Croque Michotte was classified a Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé in the very first Classification of 1955 but lost its status in 1996. This was a tremendous blow for the family. When Croque Michotte was again not included in the contentious 2006 Saint Emilion Classification the Carle family instigated legal action with a group of similarly dissatisfied chateaux owners resulting in the invalidation of the 2006 Classification. On the omission of Croque Michotte from the ranks of Grand Cru Classé in the 2012 Saint Emilion Classification Lucile Carle told La Revue du Vin de France:
“They wanted us to pay for what we did in 2006 and we will not let it happen.”
The Carle family have now resorted to legal action as there has been no response from any official body to the concerns they raised with irregularities and errors in the 2012 selection process. As to why there has been silence I do not know . . . but Jean-Luc Dairien, director of the INAO, has said that “The chateaux had until January 7th to lodge an appeal. Perhaps all the emails have not arrived.” President of the Wine Council of Saint Emilion Jean-François Quenin (owner of Chateau de Pressac) prefers not to comment at the moment “We have not received any official tribunal, so we look forward to share our response”.
Chateau Corbin Michotte is owned by Jean Noel Boidron, a former professor at the Institute of Oenology of Bordeaux. It was ranked as Grand Cru Classé in 1955 and had kept its rank in every Classification since that . . . until the 2012. He told the Sud Ouest paper that
“We believe that our standing should have been maintained. I find it incomprehensible to have been a finalist of the Grand Cru Classé Saint-Emilion Coupe in June 2012 and be decommissioned in September”.
(The Coupe is a biennial wine competition between 40 Grand Cru Classés organised by the Wine Council of Saint Emilion).
Sylvie Giraud of Chateau La Tour du Pin Figeac told Decanter.com that they had been forced to resort to the law and that they did not agree with the tastings panel, adding that information on tasting conditions and quality has been withheld.
Legal wrangling could roll on for years – Lucile Carle told Terre de Vins that she is confident a first judgment could be made “within six months”, but between an inevitable appeal and a possible referral to the Council of State, “we could be left for at least three years of litigation.”
I fervently hope that this gets sorted out for once and for all. Errors and irregularities in the selection process should be ironed out and greater transparency and communication should be implemented to avoid this sort of mess.
I can’t help but wonder if it is the 10 years between Classifications that is the problem. Perhaps 10 years (or more) is too long a time for chateaux to endure the ignominy of a demotion. If the timescale were halved would it make a difference? What do you think? Would it invigorate and inspire chateaux if they thought had a chance every 5 years to improve their positions or is 5 years not long enough for them to demonstrate improvements? Any suggestions?
Photo credit Agence Fleurie