August 22: Bordeaux Classification 1855 might be stable as a rock for over 160 years with only one addition of Chateau Mouton Rothschild but the right bank St. Emilion classification saga that started in 2006 took a further legal turn in 2012 and still remains unresolved, and will finally go to court again next year, as a Bordeaux magistrate finds the owners of Angélus and Trotte Vieille of interference in the legal process
Hubert de Boüard, owner of Château Angélus, and Philippe Castéja, owner of Château Trotte Vieille have been ordered to stand trial by a magistrate on charges of having an “illegal conflict of interest” with regards to the classification.
According to a report in The Times London Yesterday these two illustrious French château owners are to stand trial on corruption charges over claims that they influenced an official classification of fine wines to ensure a top rating for their vineyards. The case has sown jealousy, suspicion and lawsuits across the renowned Saint-Émilion wine-making area of Bordeaux, which was given world heritage status by UNESCO in 1999.
The row revolves around the official classification of wines from Saint-Emilion that were not included in the Classification of 1855 that focused primarily only on Medoc, Sauternes and one Chateau from Grave. Established by the producers of Saint-Emilion in 1955, the local system of classification is supposed to be dynamic and ratings change every 10 years based on criteria laid down and known to the producers. There have been constant arguments between châteaux at the top of the classification and those who fail to make the top grade. The difference in prices can be 20, 40 times or even more at the two ends of the spectrum, and is the main reason of all the bickering and arguments.
The system worked fairly well till 2006 when the Classification faced much resistance and the results were rejected 2 years later. As reported in delWine then, it was even suspended by a tribunal which had expressed serious doubts over the legality of the classification process and felt that some chateaux might have been unfairly discriminated against.
In 2012 Classification, Château Croque-Michotte, Château La Tour du Pin Figeac and Château Corbin-Michotte claimed that the selection process was defective, finding fault especially with the tasting panel. Prosecutors have now alleged that de Boüard was present at all stages of the process elaborating the 2012 classification (he was reportedly in the jury) while Castéja pulled strings to ensure the promotion of his own estate.
Both deny the charges and the trial is expected to take place sometime in 2020. The blame has fallen on the shoulders of both since they are accused of using their influence with the AOC and INAO unfairly. Angélus was elevated to the highest level, ‘Grand Cru Classé A’ . Trotte Vieille retained its status as ‘Grand Cru Classé B’ despite acquiring and incorporating a lower ranked estate just prior to the judging.
Castéja is also the director of one of Bordeaux's top Négociants, Borie-Manoux that exports to India as well and is also the president of the 1855 Grand Crus Classification professional body.
Charges were first levelled in 2013 but were dismissed. It went to tribunal again in 2015 but was again thrown out by the administrative court. The three claimants followed up with criminal charges which were investigated by a magistrate late last year.
In 2014, a French journalist Isabelle Saporta who is not from the world of wine had written a book Vino Bordeaux that focused on the problems with modern French winemaking. She had branded big châteaux owners as cruel and claimed that they used the size of their visitor car parks and comfort of their conference rooms as parameters in the judging process which she claimed was fixed every time to allow them to retain their dominance. She lamented that a region like Saint Emilion, once home to family producers had given way to multi-millionaire investors.
She also claimed that the 2012 classification which has been in the news for wrong reasons, had been rigged and accused De Boüard in particular of manipulating the system for his own benefit and Angélus was promoted to ‘Grand Cru Classé A’ in the 2012 classification. Hubert de Boüard sued her and sought damages of €50,000 in this case of libel. However, this case was also dismissed in 2016.
For earlier Articles, you may also visit:
Ratings and Appellations: It’s All about Money, Honey
St. Emilion Producers continue Legal Battle
St-Emilion Classification under suspension
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