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Seven Years On: Trouble in St Emilion

If you thought the next event in the saga of the St Emilion classification, most recently reworked in 2012, was the forthcoming revision due (presumably) in 2022 then I am afraid to say it look like you may be wrong. As it turns out, seven years after the current classification was published, seven years since Château Angélus and Château Pavie were promoted to the top tier of the ranking, seven years after innumerate other châteaux were shuffled about, and seven years since Château Corbin-Michotte and Château La Tour du Pin Figeac were demoted, it seems the dust has still not settled.

There was always going to be a court case with regard to any classification which demoted châteaux. The only way in which the failed 2006 classification could be temporarily shored up, pending the stricter 2012 classification, was by ‘un-demoting’ all those châteaux which were downgraded or ejected. The 2006 classification thus ended up a ranking of promotions only, with no demotions. As a short-term solution this can, I guess, be lived with. But for a definitive reclassification it would naturally have no credibility. Just like stocks and shares, the fortunes of some châteaux will go down as well as up. There were naturally complaints, accusations and some legal action.

Château Angélus

Not having followed the process intensely I had thought, however, that the dispute had fizzled out, and drawn to a close. Apparently not. Agence France-Presse reported yesterday (as published here, in La Presse) that Hubert de Boüard de Laforest (proprietor of Château Angélus along with other members of his family, but also a key figure in the reclassification process) and Philippe Castéja (head of the négociant Borie Manoux, and proprietor of Château Trottevieille, and not – to my knowledge involved in the classification process) have been requested to appear in a Bordeaux court to answer to accusations of “unlawful taking of interest”.

The key figures behind this move are the proprietors of the two aforementioned demoted châteaux, as well as Pierre Carle, proprietor of Château Croque-Michotte, a property which was demoted in 1996 and which has failed to regain promotion since. They are represented in the legal process by Éric Morain, a local lawyer. It is expected to be several months, though, before this new case comes to court.

That the three ‘wronged’ proprietors should be so determined is perhaps not a surprise. I often hear consumers tell me they pay no attention to the classification, preferring to seek out independent critical opinion instead (sometimes even mine). But that is to miss a hugely significant effect of the classification, which is the positive effect it has on your standing within the appellation and world of wine, the prices you can charge for your wine (the kick up in prices of Angélus and Pavie after 2012 was tangible) and the value of the land you own. Having said that, I can’t help wondered what the outcome might be in 2022 if the ‘wronged’ proprietors focused their efforts on their vineyards and wines rather than the legal process. It might be an easier and more credible route to promotion than that which might be won through the courts.