St Emilion 2012: The Reclassification Cometh
In just a couple of weeks time, on September 6th, the news will all be about St Emilion. This is the day that we should expect to see revealed the newest revision of the St Emilion classification. After the debacle that was the 2006 classification, which following legal challenges ultimately saw all the promoted estates stay promoted, while all those demoted moved back up to their previous position, there is a lot of potential for discontent and disagreement this time. Will the lawyers of Libourne (yes I know that’s the heart of Pomerol – I’m just doing this for the alliteration) be rubbing their hands with the glee as the Euro-signs flash across their eyes once more?
Perhaps not. This time, seemingly having learnt from their mistakes, the process is being handled somewhat differently. First, I’m told that all the châteaux threatened with relegation from their current position were notifed by letter sometime after the beginning of June. In other words, the process is already well underway. The purpose of this was to allow the proprietor(s) concerned to defend his or her position, before a panel from the INAO, away from the prying eyes of their neighbours. The St Emilion rumour mill is going like the clappers at the moment, and the latest story to do the rounds is that thirty such letters, each one the equivalent of a vinous P45, have been sent out, a number which – given that there are only about 70 châteaux currently ranked as premier grand cru classé or grand cru classé – seems remarkably high. Does this also relate to the grand cru ranking, I wonder?
That there will be demotions is inevitable; I think many Winedoctor readers could come up with a short-list of likely declassification targets, including some that were demoted and re-promoted in 2006, such as Guadet St-Julien, Cadet-Bon and Yon-Figeac. It will also be interesting to see what happens to those estates perhaps unfairly punished with attempted demotion in the 2006 listing, such as Bellevue, and those that have very recently come into new hands (such as Tertre-Dauguy, now owned by Domaine Clarence Dillon, and renamed Château Quintus). Will these estates survive this time around? Perhaps of most interest, however, is the question of who will be promoted.
It seems unlikely to me that any estate will scale the insurmountable wall between the A and B levels of the premier grand cru classé classification, so Cheval Blanc and Ausone should remain undisturbed. If they were to be joined by another estate, however, who would it be? Who would you like it to be? Popular choices are likely to be Pavie and Angélus. Elevation of the latter would be something of a coup for Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, an increasingly powerful figure in the little microcosm that is Bordeaux and wine. I would, however, be hugely surprised if either make the leap.
At the ‘lower’ levels there could be numerous changes and surprises. First up is surely Valandraud; having spent some time with Jean-Luc Thunevin in St Emilion a few weeks ago I know he is very hopeful of higher classification. The target for Thunevin is the ‘B’ level of the premier grand cru classé rung, and this would be an impressive feat, from grand cru to premier grand cru classé in one move. Forget the mere grand cru classé level! The next you might look out for is Le Dôme from Jonathan Malthus; sadly this estate is not eligible for the classification, the reason for this – if I understood Jonathan correctly – being regulations about what percentage of your wine must come from the estate, which is 50%. This means Jonathan, with so many other estates under his wing, could not submit this remarkable wine (the vineyards are just next to Angélus, by the way). Comte Stefan von Neipperg will be looking for La Mondotte to climb, and perhaps Canon-la-Gaffelière too.