Trouble and Controversy Brewing in Bordeaux’s Saint-Emillion Ahead of the 2022 Reclassification
As Saint-Emillion’s 2022 reclassification comes up this year, its credibility and meaningfulness are in question. The appellation’s classification system has always been filled with politics and mishappenings, but this past year has been particularly rough.
Three of the four AOC’s top chateaux are absent from the process, as they have chosen to opt out. Chateau Chevel Blanc and Chateau Ausone announced in the summer of 2021, that they would not be reapplying. This came as a shock to the wine world, as they are two of the most famous chateaux in Bordeaux, France, and even the world. At the beginning of January of 2022, Chateau Angelus made a similar announcement. While these are all under slightly different circumstances, they all describe similar issues within the AOC.
The Saint-Emilion Reclassification became especially heated in the 2012 reclassification. The judges, their criteria, and impartialness created a reclassification that is still controversial today. The INAO, the French governing body that regulates famous French agricultural names and products, was at the center of this. When the different chateaux saw the criteria for 2022, the three previously mentioned had mixed feelings. They cited controversial, newly added factors related to tourism and social networking. Taste, terroir, and viticulture are the most important factors according to those at Chateau Chevel Blanc and Chateau Ausone.
Chateau Angelus recently left for different reasons. In November of 2021, the Co-owner of Angelus, Hubert de Boüard, was tried in a French criminal court in Bordeaux. He was found guilty of intentionally misusing his positions on the INOA Classification Board and the Grand Cru Saint-Emillion Syndicate to financially benefit himself and his friends in the 2012 reclassification. He was fined €40,000. Those associated with Angelus describe the drawn-out legal conflicts related to this as part of their reasoning for leaving. They say it highlights how far the appellation has fallen and the messy politics within.
The Potential Outcome and Effects
Saint-Emilion’s classification system is often seen as progressive and a breath of fresh air. Compared to the likes of the 1855 Classificaiton of Bordeaux which never changes, Saint-Emillion’s classifications are challenged and reviewed roughly every 10 years. As we have seen in the past year, Saint-Emillion is not without issues, though. Chateaux being judged by irrelevant factors and politics undermining the intentions of the classification system are only broad highlights of the appellation’s issues. It will be interesting to see how these three Chateaux move forward.
The INOA has confirmed that the reclassification later this year will still continue, despite these recent events. The organization has changed some of its criteria and policies in hopes of reestablishing trust with the community. These include outsourcing the judges to French wine regions outside of Bordeaux and basing 50% of the final judgment on taste. This was clearly not enough for some, and it is fairly easy to see why. As three of the classification’s biggest chateaux opt-out, it could leave room for others to fill the void. This could also be the demise of the appellation’s classification system in terms of credibility and usefulness.
As for the consumers and international markets, this should not mean too much. The large majority of wine consumers tend to not care too much about a particular wine classification. They buy what they like and what they are interested in. Chevel Blanc, Ausone, and Angelus will have no problem selling their wines, nor will those remaining in Saint-Emillion’s Classification.