Bordeaux Giants Quit the Classification System

Cheval Blanc has removed itself from the classification system, saying too many of the criteria have nothing to with wine.
© Archute | Cheval Blanc has removed itself from the classification system, saying too many of the criteria have nothing to with wine.
A bolt from the blue in Bordeaux, where two prestige producers say au revoir to the Saint-émilion classification.
By Oliver Styles | Posted Sunday, 11-Jul-2021

While the Shampanskoye vs. Champagne story took most of the wine-related headlines this week (eclipsing the pan-Adriatic spat over Croatia's sweet Pro?ek vs. northern Italy's bubbly par-excellence, Prosecco), here are some of the other big stories you might have missed this week:

Cheval-Blanc and Ausone leave Saint-Emilion classification

Chateaux Cheval-Blanc and Ausone are pulling out of the 2022 Saint-Emilion classification saying the process has moved too far from "fundamental" issues. The two estates, both original Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé As until they were joined by Angélus and Pavie in the last classification in 2012, say they had prepared their candidacy for the 10-year revision but decided the criteria were too far from what they saw as the most important issues.

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"We planned to submit the documents," Pierre Lurton, head of Cheval-Blanc, and Pierre-Olivier Clouet, his technical director, are quoted in French wine publication Terre de Vins. "But the areas for evaluation went too far beyond what we considered fundamental: the terroir; the wine; the history."

Both the estates have also removed their stablemates in the area. Château Quinaut l'Enclos, like Cheval-Blanc, is owned by Bernard Arnault of LVMH and the Frère family, while the Vauthier family (which runs Ausone) also pulled Château La Clotte from the classification.

The move will doubtless reverberate through Saint-Emilion and may well put the 2022 classification in jeopardy. Although it's anyone's guess how things will unfold across the region over the following weeks, both parties are keen to stress they do not wish to downplay or undermine the work done by their counterparts in the region leading up to the new classification process.

“It not that we feel that we are above the classification at all, or that we don't need it, that would be awfully pretentious," Pauline Vauthier, who heads up Chateau Ausone, also told Terre de Vins. "It's just that we don't see ourselves in the criteria."

Using a time-honored trope of journalism, Terre et Vins said that both chateaux "defended themselves from suggestions that they were motivated by the possibility of more properties entering the [Grand Cru Classé] A bracket".

Indeed, according to local broadsheet (and sister publication) Sud Ouest, as well as tastings (of the last 10-15 vintages) and terroir analysis, the commission for the classification is also due to review sales, visitor experience, press coverage and social media presence. All are elements reportedly present in the last classification attempt and are unlikely to have been detrimental to the candidacy of either estate.

Since its inception 1955, there has been a tradition of updating the classification every decade – a process that has been dogged with recrimination and, in some cases, legal action over the last few decades. The 2006 classification, after years of going in and out of court, was officially annulled in 2009.

"Ooooo," said UK wine writer Jancis Robinson reacting to the news on social media site Twitter yesterday. "That classification is such a good idea in theory. In practice though..."

EU green lights hybrids

Reports from negotiations over the European Union's new Common Agricultural Policy (or CAP, due to come into force in 2023) indicate that the EU is set to green-light hybrid varieties in Protected Designation of Origin wines. Effectively, the new ruling (article 93 in the CAP) will allow the likes of French appellations to plant hybrids and commercially make wines from them.

According to wine news site, vitisphere.com, the moves comes at the behest of the French delegation in the talks. France is looking to reduce chemical use in vineyards and allowing hardy, relatively disease-resistant hybrids is one option.

The French appellations body, the INAO (National Institute for Appellations of Origin) has already made steps in this direction, although it has not officially sanctioned the use of hybrids.

In a bid to adapt to a changing climate, the INAO moved to allow trial plantings of certain approved (but not hybrid) varieties across five to ten percent of some appellation vineyards. One example is in Savoie, where (as of 11 February 2021) seven varieties, including the once ubiquitous Corbeau Noir, or almost extinct Bia Blanc or Dousset – or even the somewhat more well-known Pinot Gris – can be planted as accessory varieties if given official permission.

Hybrids, however, are somewhat more controversial – although they are not without an eventful history. In 1934, France famously banned six hybrids because they (allegedly) drove people mad. The Clinton, Isabella, Jacquez, Noah, Othello and Herbemont varieties were struck from official wine production in the 1950s.

Many are Vitis Lambrusca or even more complex North American crossings with storied pasts. Some growers, mainly in the Ardèche and Lozère departments of southern central France, still produce wines – legally, according to French regional newpaper Midi Libre – from the once-banned grapes (they are also found in pockets of western central Europe and as far afield as Brazil).

"The vines have survived [...] and their wine still satisfies a few local consumer producers," Midi Libre reported last month, while covering a reunion of hybrid producers in the Lozère.

As for the potential European ruling, the exact application and how it is enforced by member states remains to be seen.

"At this point, it's a political agreement," Janusz Wojciechowski, the European Commissioner for Agriculture, was quoted in vitisphere.com. "The detailed implementing provisions for this agreement will be adopted later by the [European] Commission"

Wine director resigns from Oregon university amid national fallout

Following the summary dismissal of a respected professor, and with allegations sexual misconduct, racial discrimination, and accusations of antisemitism swirling around senior leadership, a number of faculty staff have stepped down from roles at Oregon's private Linfield University in McMinnville.

Alongside the departures, the director of the university's Evenstad Center for Wine Education, the highly regarded Gregory V. Jones, announced he was leaving Linfield earlier this month (he reportedly resigned a month ago). According to a report in local newspaper The Oregonian this week, Jones, a research climatologist specializing in viticulture, made it clear he was not retiring.

Jones is not alone in quitting the department. Chelsea Janzen, the wine program’s office coordinator, has also stepped down.

Neither Jones nor Janzen have commented on the precise reason, or reasons, for their departure. Others, including Jeffrey Peterson, an associate professor in the anthropology and sociology department, have made it clear that their resignation follows the dismissal of English professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, who publicly denounced the university board of trustees on social media for mishandling sexual abuse claims.

The story was covered by national broadsheet The New York Times in May this year. Pollack-Pelzner's dismissal has been roundly criticised by students, former students and college professors nationally.

Wine retailer decries sexist French wine industry

Fleur Godart, the French wine merchant at the centre of a recent outcry over the publication of a sexist cartoon in Gallic wine publication En Magnum (for which editor and veteran French wine writer Thierry Desseauve was deemed not to have a defamation case to answer), penned a short but acerbic piece last weekend, slamming sexism in the French wine industry.

Godart covered all levels of the sector, from female cellarhands barred from coming too close to wine lest their hormones interfere with fermentation, to sales. After tiring of "having to put up with drunk, sleazy guys in the middle of the day", she moved on to being wine merchant where "I took over from a woman who had been harassed and assaulted".

"Everywhere I went, I replaced a woman who had left. Always the only woman, surrounded by men," Godart said, in a piece penned jointly with someone using the pen-name "Gaze". The article ended on something of a reconciliatory note while hoping that, at the very least perhaps, "Marcel" (a figurative vigneron) might put "Monique" in front of his name on the wine label.

Spanish police investigate wine fraud

Spain's Guardia Civil police force is reportedly investigating wine fraud in the fashionable northwestern region of Bierzo. According to local publication InfoBierzo, the investigation surrounds several wineries passing off wine from outside the region as Bierzo. Initial reports indicate the number of bottles under investigation to be in thousands.

So far, the regional wine trade body of the DO Bierzo has not issued any comment.

French wine regions battle it out on the basketball court

Burgundy vs. Beaujolais; Crozes-Hermitage vs. Langeudoc-Roussillon; these were some of the head-to-heads in Fleurie last weekend as Beaujolais hosted the second edition of the "Vin'T'age" basketball tournament. The three-day event pits ad hoc teams from wine regions against each other in a bid to highlight the sport and combine it with spotlighting a wine region.

Vin'T'age includes both current and former professional basketballers. The under 36 year-olds kick off the match, swapping out with the over 36 year-olds for the last five minutes of the game. 

In all, five teams competed over the weekend, hosted by the Basket Club La?que Fleurie Villié-Morgon, in the heart of the Beaujolais. The host region was represented in the round robin format, facing off against Burgundy, Crozes-Hermitage, Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence.

The first installment of the event took place in 2019 in Tain-l'Hermitage while the 2020 event (cancelled due to Covid) would have been held in Prissé, in the Mâconnais. Covid still affected the tournament, with teams from Spain (Valencia) and Italy (Piedmont) initially slated to appear.

"The objective would be to push out the concept to all French and European wine regions," said co-founder of the event, and former international basketball coach, Jean-Paul Rebatet.

Hard reasons to combine watermelon and wine

Mexican economic publication El Financiero was busy highlighting the North American country's new push to increase wine consumption among its populace this week. Indeed, the Mexican government has got together with the wine sector to promote the country's vinous output.

“There is a challenge ahead to increase consumption [of wine in Mexico], which is currently one liter per capita," said president of the Mexican Wine Council, Hans Bakchoff. Bakchoff added that there would be a campaign "where the consumers are informed about the benefits of wine".

It's not entirely clear whether a myth-busting report, also this week, on Mexican celebrity news site TBO (Telebajocero) was part of that very push. The piece aimed to dispel a popular myth that combining watermelon and wine could be mortal. 

Quite the opposite, apparently. "In fact, it has very good aphrodisiac-style effects, because watermelon has an amino acid called L-arginine – one of the active ingredients in Viagra," said the site.

There was a further, unexpected, warning too: "The mixture of wine with watermelon could cause problems only if the wine is over 40oC, since a molecule is formed that combines with the nitrogen oxide of the watermelon and forms nitroglycerin, which could lead to problems for people who already have heart damage," it added.

Perhaps not entirely what the Mexican government and wine industry had mind.

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