“Michelin Stars” for Cru Bourgeois wines?
The “bourgeois” were inhabitants of the “bourg” of Bordeaux and during the English rule they had acquired rights and privileges, notably an exemption of taxes on the wines from their vineyards. By the 15th century the bourgeois of Bordeaux were able to acquire the finest lands in the region, which were referred to as “Crus des Bourgeois” and then “Crus Bourgeois”.
In 1932 the Bordeaux wine brokers designated 444 châteaux in the Médoc as Crus Bourgeois, but this never achieved official status until an Official Association was created in 1962. Over the next 16 years 222 châteaux were given an internal ranking to achieve the status of “Cru Bourgeois” and in 1979 European Community labelling regulations approved the use of the traditional term “Cru Bourgeois”. On 17th June 2003, a ministerial decree ratified the first Official Classification of Crus Bourgeois which was awarded to 247 châteaux out of 490 candidates. This made a lot of people unhappy and as a result, this decree was cancelled by the Administrative Court of Bordeaux on 27th February 2007.
The risk of losing the term “Cru Bourgeois” for ever motivated the wine producers of the Médoc to come together to find a harmonious solution. A Quality Charter was drawn up called the “Cru Bourgeois Reconnaissance” and thus the “Alliance des Crus Bourgeois” was born.
The main principles of the “Cru Bourgeois Reconnaissance” allows any château from one of the eight Médoc appellations (Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Margaux, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis-en-Médoc, Saint-Julien, Pauilac and Saint-Estèphe) to apply for the “Cru Bourgeois Reconnaissance” Quality Charter, which will be granted only if the “Schedule of Requirements” is fully respected by the producer. This “Schedule of Requirements” has been drawn up by the Bureau VERITAS, an independent organisation mainly concerned with assessing wine quality. These requirements are then checked by a “Procedure of Verification” which has been created by Bureau VERITAS.
Each château applying for the award is inspected in order to gain eligibility to be recognised as “Crus Bourgeois”. Each vintage needs to be submitted for blind tastings, which takes place two years after the harvest – i.e. the 2008 vintage in 2010, the 2009 vintage in 2011 etc.
The technical Committee of the Alliance sets the minimum level of quality required each year in order to be recognised as “Cru Bourgeois”. Two ranges of wines are selected, one for each AOC group that acts as a reference for the tasters. The reference range will differ each year according to the overall quality of the vintage, thus in poor years, the bar will be set at a lower level than in good years in order to attain qualification.
The professional tasters, who will be appointed by VERITAS, will be fully trained to use the representative range of wines selected as their reference for the vintage. They will also be independent as no member of the Alliance will be among the tasters. The tastings will be carried out individually and without any consultation. Just before bottling, samples will be taken from vats of wine that had been uniformly blended. The successful attribution of the award will be based on the average scores from the panel of tasters. In the event of a negative result, the property may make an appeal and resubmit its wines to a new tasting during that year’s schedule of tastings.
Bottling has to be done after the date of delivery of the “Cru Bourgeois” Reconnaissance award and no later than 31st December in the third year after the vintage. Any wine not bottled by then will lose its status as “Cru Bourgeois”.
The impartiality of the operation is guaranteed by the fact that all property inspections, the taking of samples, the organisation and results of the tastings and the unveiling of the properties identities are solely in the hands of VERITAS.
From 15th September of the second year after the vintage, the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc will announce the list of properties entitled to use the term “Cru Bourgeois” for a given vintage. It is to be noted that this is an annual award and it is perfectly possible for any wine to lose its status until another year has passed. This is certainly a step in the right direction and has been recognised by the authorities whereby an inter-ministerial decree ratifying the process for the “Cru Bourgeois” Reconnaissance by the Ministers of Agriculture and Consumer Protection was made on 16th November 2009.
It seems therefore that from the 2008 vintage onwards, the term “Cru Bourgeois” will be an indication of merit rather than provenance – a kind of Michelin Star award which should keep all these Châteaux on their toes and a clear definition of confidence for the consumer.