The Saint Emilion classification was established in 1955 in order to differentiate between the quality levels for better wines produced in the Saint Emilion Appellation and give the consumer a clearer indication of quality. The classification would be re assessed every 10 years and Chateaux, which might be under performing would be downgraded and Chateaux that were making exceptional wine would be elevated to a higher status. The first classification was in 1955, then it was re assessed in 1969, 1986, 1996 and 2006.
The current classification in 2010 is:
Premier Grand Cru Classé
Class A: Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc
Class B: Angelus, Beausejour Becot, Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse, Belair (Monange), Canon, Figeac, Clos Fourtet, La Gaffeliere, Magdalaine, Pavie, Pavie Macquin(Upgraded in 2006), Troplong Mondot(Upgraded in 2006), Trottevieille
Grand Cru Classé
L'Arrosée, Balestard-La-Tonnelle, Bellefont-Belcier, Bellevue, Bergat, Berliquet, Cadet-Bon, Cadet-Piola, Canon-la-Gaffeliere, Cap-de-Mourlin, Chauvin, La Clotte, Corbin, Corbin-Michotte, La Couspaude, Couvent des Jacobins, Dassault, Destieux, La Dominique, Faurie-de-Souchard, Fleur-Cardinale, Fonplégade, Fonroque, Franc-Mayne, Grand-Corbin, Grand Corbin-Despagne, Grand Mayne, Grand-Pontet, Les Grandes-Murailles, Guadet St-Julien, Haut-Corbin, Haut Sarpe, Clos des Jacobins, Laniote, Larcis-Ducasse, Larmande, Laroque, Laroze, La Marzelle, Matras, Monbousquet, Moulin-du-Cadet,Clos de l'Oratoire, Pavie-Decesse, Petit-Faurie-de-Soutard, Le Prieuré, Ripeau, St-Georges-Côte-Pavie, Clos St-Martin, La Serre, Soutard, Tertre-Daugay, La Tour-du-Pin, La Tour-du-Pin-Figeac (Moueix), La Tour Figeac, Villemaurine, Yon-Figeac.
Grapes coming in to the winery in October 2009 at Chateau Troplong Mondot. This Chateau ultimately benefitted from the classification, as it is now a Premier Grand Cru Classe
The contentious issues in 2006 centred around 11 properties that were demoted from Grand Cru Classe: Bellevue, Cadet-Bon, Faurie de Souchard, Guadet St Julien, La Marzelle, Petit Faurie de Soutard, Tertre Daugay, La Tour du Pin Figeac, Villemaurine and Yon Figeac. A group of 4 of the demoted Chateaux challenged the classification. They complained that the panel of tasters and decision makers from the INAO were not impartial. The legal wrangles lasted three years until 2009. During this time there was consternation from all sides, especially the promoted Chateaux (Pavie Macquin and Troplong Mondot), who really did not know what label to put on their bottles.
Although Chateau Tertre Daugay was initially downgraded in the 2006 classification, they ultimately retained their status as Grand Cru Classe. Since then they have had a major overhaul of the winery. The picture on the left shows the new fermentation tanks. They are investing in the vines and the Chateau in order to retain their status in the next classification. The proof is in the exceptional wines produced in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The Premier Grand Cru Classé and Grand Cru Classé Chateaux account for 72 Chateaux covering 880 hectares approximately 17% of Saint Emilion's 5,500 hectares under vine. This also shows how small the properties are on the Right Bank. Lynch Bages and Pontet Canet in Pauillac are 80-100 hectares each!
The current classification will be fully reviewed in 2011.....so we might start legal debates again, which will do nothing for the reputation of this beautiful place. The classification is very sensible, when you consider that the 1855 classification of the Medoc (and Haut Brion) has only had one significant change in the last 155 years....when Chateau Mouton Rothschild was elevated to 1st growth in 1973.
In Saint Emilion there have been examples when Chateau such as Beausejour Becot have been demoted in 1986...(they expanded their vineyard area by buying another neighbouring Chateau) and then re instated in the classification of 1996. This is an efficient 'check and balance' for a classification system and if everything works out well it is a good system. We will just have to wait and see.