Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Legal row over French wine classification

The wine classification system in France can make or break a vineyard Photo: EPA

A row over the highly competitive wine classification system that can make or break a vineyard is threatening the reputation of the Saint-Emilion chateaux, producers of some of the world's most famous wines.

The disagreement, which has led to a series of law suits, concerns the rating of 'les vins de Saint Emilion' by a jury run by the French Ministry of Agriculture.

Under the system, only a handful of the 800 vineyards are classified as le classement. The successful candidates are then divided into three categories; premier grand cru classe A, premier grand cru classe B and grand cru classe.

The row originates when the league table was revised two years ago. Then the le classement featured 61 chateaux including six new ones. Two others were promoted from grand cru classe to premier grand cru classe B.

But 11 vineyards lost their place, a relegation that can have a huge impact on a wine producer's income. Seven of the 11 vineyards that lost out went to court to challenge the decision.

After two years, Bordeaux's Administrative Tribunal upheld their claim this summer and ruled that the jury had failed to taste all the wines in the same conditions.

The 2006 classement was quashed and the eight promoted vineyards were relegated and the 11 vineyards were reinstated..

"This is a great moment for us," said Philippe Genevey of Chateau La Marzelle, which regained its grand cru classe status.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the losers take a different view and are looking to appeal the decision. Xavier Pariente, the owner of Chateau Troplong-Mondot said he had spent "dozens of millions of euros" to win a place in the grand cru classe B category.

"That's almost 20 years of hard work and investment by all the personnel here wiped out at the stroke of a pen. It frightens me and revolts me," he said.