Government: keep your hands off my classification!
I think it’s completely insane to rank wineries the way they do in Bordeaux.
This is something a government has absolutely no business in. Look at the mess they’ve made for themselves over in Saint Emilion over the recent reclassification.
Lawsuits. Bitterness. Bad press. Sour feelings between neighbors.
Maybe classification made sense in 1855. Things were different then. I’m sure some wineries were pissed off that they weren’t ranked higher, but they took their lumps gracefully. People didn’t rush off to their lawyers every time they felt dissed.
Nowadays they do. But can you blame Pierre Carle, of Chateau Croque Michotte, for being furious the authorities refused promotion from Grand Cru to Grand Cru Classé? Read this account from thewinedoctor.com blog for an accounting of M. Carle’s objections.
It’s particularly crazy that the authorities based their action, in part, on what they perceived as deficiencies in Croque Michotte’s soils. Who’s to say what soils can produce the best wines? Maybe in France, the authorities possess that wisdom. Here in California, it would be patently absurd.
For example, an “authority” might say that Cabernet Sauvignon from the the Napa Valley flatlands, between the Silverado Trail and Highway 29, is “inferior” to the soils of the mountains. But let’s consider some vineyards along the Oakville Cross Road, where you’ll find the likes of Rudd, PlumpJack and Venge, whose 2008 Estate Family Reserve Cabernet was one of my highest-scoring wines of the vintage. That just proves that the conventional wisdom can be wrong–and should not be used as a pretext to measure quality. As I’ve said so many times, quality can only be determined the old-fashioned way: by what’s in the bottle.
You’d think that, after the recent history of reclassification in Saint Emilion (there was another big flap in 2006), they’d learn their lesson and stop trying. But no. This year [again, thanks to thewinedoctor.com for my information], they transferred the power to reclassify from the local St Emilion Syndicat Viticole to the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO), which is responsible for overseeing all of France, in order to make it more “legitimate.” It’s sort of like if the Napa Valley Vintners had been classifying Napa wineries all these years, but things got so ugly that NVV passed that hot potato onto the Wine Institute. The analogy is imperfect, since we don’t have legal bodies that can actually classify, but you get the idea.
France is a wonderful country, but in so many ways they remain hidebound prisoners of their traditions. These official classification systems are an anachronism. I doubt if France will have the courage to get rid of them anytime soon, because the powers and interests are so vested. But they really should. The last thing any modern wine-producing nation needs is a bunch of government bureaucrats defining winners and losers. Let the market do that.