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Premier Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru Classé

Facts are facts but any opinions, express or implied, on this page are those of the Chancellor in the North in his personal, not official, capacity and do not necessarly represent the views or opinions of any other person or body connected with the Jurisdiction. . .

Saint-Émilion had no part in the 1855 Left Bank classification and had no classification system of its own until 1955. Unhandicapped by an old system, it was able to create a modern one. Within the higher Appellation of Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, there are two levels of classified growth - Premier Grand Cru Classé (itself sub-divided into "A" and "B") and Grand Cru Classé. The classification takes place anew about every ten years, both for those already classified and those wishing to be so, so that there is a complete review. It has not been true , as some critics thought would be the case, that the numbers of classified growths would increase with each review. Indeed rather the reverse has happened, especially in the case of the Grands Crus Classés. In 1955 there were 12 Premiers Grands Crus Classés and 63 Grands Crus Classés. Whilst 1969 saw a further 9 Grands Crus Classés added bringing the total to 72, the 1986 review gave only 11 Premiers Grands Crus Classés and 63 Grands Crus Classés. Ten years later, in 1996, there were 2 new classifications as Premiers Grands Crus Classés, giving a total of 13, but only 55 Grands Crus Classés emerged from the review. The proposed 2006 classification, surrounded by controversy and eventually judicially overturned, would have seen a further decline in the latter's numbers to 46, after Ch. Pavie-Macquin and Ch. Troplong Mondot each became Premier Grand Crus Classé.


The 2012 Classification increases that number to 64. A list of the classified wines follows, alphabetically, with an asterisk marking the additions to any particular class compared with the original 2006 list, a double asterisk means that this wine featured neither in the 2006 nor the 1996 list in that classification:

Premiers Grands Crus Classés
A: Ch. Angélus**, Ch. Ausone, Ch. Cheval Blanc, Ch. Pavie**;
B: Ch. Beauséjour (Duffau Lagarrosse), Ch. Beau-Séjour-Bécot, Ch. Belair-Monange (formerly Ch. Belair and now including the former Ch. Magdelaine ), Ch. Canon (now including the former Ch. Matras), **, Ch. Figeac, Clos Fourtet, Ch. La Gaffelière, Ch. Larcis Ducasse**, La Mondotte**, Ch. Pavie-Macquin, Ch. Troplong-Mondot, Ch. Trottevieille (now including the former Ch. Bergat), Ch. Valandraud**;

Grands Crus Classés:

Ch. l’Arrosé, Ch. Balestard la Tonnelle, Ch. Barde-Haut**, Ch. Bellefont-Belcier, Ch. Bellevue*, Ch. Berliquet, Ch. Cadet Bon*, Ch. Cadet Piola, Ch. Cap de Mourlin, Ch. le Chatelet**, Ch. Chauvin, Ch. Clos de Sarpe**, Ch. Corbin, Ch. Cote de Baleau**, Ch. La Clotte, Ch. la Commanderie**, Ch. La Couspaude, Ch. Dassault, Ch. Destieux, Ch. La Dominique, Ch. Faugeres**, Ch. Faurie de Souchard*, Ch. de Ferrand**, Ch. Fleur-Cardinale, Ch. La Fleur Morange**, Ch. Fombrauge**, Ch. Fonplégade, Ch. Fonroque, Ch. Franc Mayne, Ch. Grand Corbin (which now takes in the former Ch. Haut Corbin), Ch. Grand Corbin Despagne, Ch. Grand Mayne, Ch. Grand Pontet, Ch. Guadet* (formerly called Ch. Guadet Saint-Julien), Ch. Haut Sarpe, Clos des Jacobins, Couvent des Jacobins, Ch. Jean Faure**, Ch. Laniote, Ch. Larmande, Ch. Laroque, Ch. Laroze, Clos la Madeleine**, Ch. La Marzelle*, Ch. Monbousquet, Ch. La Serre, Ch. Les Grandes Murailles, Ch. Moulin du Cadet, Clos de l'Oratoire, Ch. Pavie-Decesse, Ch. Peby Faugeres**, Ch. Petit Faurie de Soutard*, Ch. de Pressac**, Ch. Le Prieuré, Ch. Quinault l’Enclos, Ch. Ripeau, Ch. Rochebelle**, Ch. Saint-Georges-Côte-Pavie,Clos Saint-Martin, Ch. Sansonnet**, Ch. Soutard, Ch. Tertre Daugay*, Ch. La Tour Figeac, Ch. Villemaurine*, and Ch. Yon Figeac.
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Classification, criteria - and controversy

Any classification system is human and is bound to be subject to controversy and criticism and this has been true of Saint-Émilion's as well. Inevitably decisions have a subjective element and in a wine world of partisan championship of different styles, arguments will arise. More importantly, wine invites love - and wine lovers who feel a particular beloved has been slighted or overlooked will inevitably be furious on its behalf. Litigation often seems to follow the announcement of the Classification Committee's decisions and four Châteaux challenged the 2006 classification. The same is true of the 2012 classification in respect of which three Châteaux have announced a legal challenge. The principle of classification itself is not challenged but the judgement of the Commission in individual cases. The 2006 challenge led to the suspension by a first instance Court, upheld on appeal in March 2009, of the whole classification. The suspension left a vacuum, pending the next reclassification procedure, with no grower lawfully being able to rely on the previous classification as currently valid. In order to alleviate that problem for most, pending a new and valid classification, a Ministerial decree initially revived the 1996 classification for 2006 to 2009 which, of course, left everybody with the status they then had. Whilst that relieved the difficulty for most Châteaux, it was, on any view, very hard on those who had been found to merit promotion. In May 2009 the Government effectively added those Chateaux which had been intended to be promoted in the 2006 classification to the 1996 one, finally removing that problem. Government intervention therefore approved promotions proposed by the 2006 classification but left overturned its proposed demotions.

The 2006 classification gave rise to further controversy, although it did not lead to legal action on this ground, because the Committee’s interpretation of the requirement in the rules that it should take into account price, led to several Châteaux being denied a higher classification on the sole ground (le seul motif) that they sell at too low a price - it is well known that Ch. Figeac, a Premier Grand Classé B, was refused promotion to join Ausone & Cheval Blanc as Premier Grand Classé A for this reason alone, a decision widely criticised in the English speaking world.
Moroever, some Châteaux had been in the process of improving markedly under new ownership or direction but were still demoted, presumably because they were thought to have been less good during the early part of the relevant period Château Bellevue, for example, was widely thought to be in this category as were some of those who, unlike that Château, took legal action.

In 2012 Ch. Corbin Michotte, a very long standing Grand Cru Classé, failed to keep its official place as such, despite having come second, judged by its peers, only months before in the official Coupe des Grands Crus Classés, beating Ch. Canon la Gaffelière which was promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé.

Those facts simply underline what anyone concerned with a classification system recognises, that elements of subjectivity and personal judgement, perhaps unwittingly influenced by style preferences, can play a part and those looking for wine would, as always, be well advised to be more influenced by the contents of a bottle than by its label. Nonetheless, whilst there will always be room for discussion and debate, the system provides some assistance for customers new to, or not very familiar with, the Jurisdiction's wines as well as wider public recognition of the especial excellence of those classified, even when there are strong arguments for saying that there are others of equal quality whose merits have not been officially recognised or as fully recognised as they deserved. It is also worth bearing in mind that the system of scoring, outlined below, takes into account matters other than the quality of the wine so that very good wine may not qualify because other criteria than quality are judged not to be met.

Decanter’s article on the 2012 results provides one interesting independent Anglo-Saxon viewpoint: here

THE NEW CRITERIA

Following the problems with the 2006 classification, a review of the rules for classification took place, not by the Saint-Emilionais themselves but INAO, the central French wine authority. The new rules were promulgated on 6th June 2011 by ministerial order and the new classification process has taken place under them.

The new rules can be found in French here

They governed the 2012 classification and there was an independent Classification Commission composed of members of the INAO National Committee or those chosen for their special competence. There was thus much less local involvement under these rules than before and anybody with a direct interest in the classification was barred, thus preventing negociants being directly part of the process. Whilst that provides independence it may also be said to deprive the system of some very well attuned Bordelais palates and bring in the judgements of those far more familiar with the Rhone, Champagne, Provençe, the Loire and Burgundy than with the wines of the Jurisdiction.

Up to fifteen years’ vintages may be taken into account for Premiers Grands Crus Classés and ten for Grands Crus Classés.
An application has to be made by the grower supported by a dossier covering the activities of the relevant ten or fifteen year period.

One of the major changes is that tasting by the Commission has become the most important criterion to judge the level of quality and consistency for those seeking to remain as, or ne promoted to, Grand Cru Classé. It will count for 50% of the final result, the remainder being made up of an assessement of national and international reputation as shown by the dossier supporting the application (20%), with an assessment of technical aspects of the estate and production making up the balance. Price should therefore be considerably reduced in importance for the Grands Crus Classés.

It is understood by the author of this note, on very good authority, that all those seeking to remain as, or to be promoted to, Premier Grand Cru Classé will first have to satisfy the criteria applicable to Grands Crus Classés, passing the tasting and other tests for that level first before being submitted to the different criteria for Premier Grand Cru Classés.

The marking system is rather different for Premiers Grands Crus Classés, in respect of which classification will be based less on tasting criteria - 30% of the final result - than the other factors taken together. It remains a criticism that wines which qualify as Premiers on quality grounds may not be promoted because their selling price is lower than other wines of similar quality which are classified.

Applicants' wines are marked out of 20 with a requirement to obtain 14/20 for classification as Grand Cru Classé and 16/20 for Premier Grand Cru Classé. The marks awarded are not made public, so there can be no classification within a classification.

The decision as to whether a Premier Grand Classé should be A or B depends, according to the rules, only on its reputation or fame and its capacity to age. There is no requirement for a particular higher mark out of 20 for this distinction, whether specifically on tasting or overall, as there is for other gradations in the classification nor, despite the requirement for capacity to age, is any longer period than 15 years taken into account or older wies tasted. It is noticeable that Ch. Figeac, the capacity to age for periods far in excess of 15 years of which can hardly be in doubt, was not promoted to A in 2012 and one criticisim voiced is that price is still being taken into account at this level rather than objective quality.

Challenge to any individual decision in relation to a Château was intended no longer to require challenge to the whole classification but only to that individual case, so that all other decisions would stand and the whole classification would not be imperilled as happened in 2006. There is provision for a re-examination of individual cases with a grower having a right to be heard.

The requirement that an applicant's wine should have been Grand Cru for seven out of the ten relevant years has gone in the new rules but the candidate vineyard must over the relevant period have produced an average of at least 50% of the wine under the same name as that which is the subject of the application. In order to qualify for consideration the estate also has to be a sufficiently large economic and viticultural unit and have cellars used exclusively for the candidate wine.

On pain of being declassified, candidates have to undertake for the following ten years not, without proper authority, to modify in any way the property on which the classified wine was made, and must also undertake to bottle it at the Château.



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