It can take an awfully long time for things to change in France, particularly when it comes to the rules, regulations and procedures that govern what can be made in which wine region. So it is great credit to all those who have not only helped revive the Cru Bourgeois de Médoc classification in Bordeaux over the last nine years, but who are now ready to push on and reveal a whole series of new measures they believe will make their wines even more appreciated, well known and loved by trade and consumer alike. Olivier Cuvelier, president of the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, explains what the changes will mean for UK buyers.
Bordeaux can be a complicated region even for the most experienced wine professional, never mind the consumer faced with a mile of wines on the average wine list. Which is why those behind the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc classification are prepared to make more changes to encourage more trade buyers and wine drinkers to try their wines.
Can you explain the changes you are making to the classification?
There are two main changes with this new classification :
- The classification is valid for five years instead of being based on a one year selection and it will check the quality of five vintages instead of just one.
- We will re-introduce the three historical hierarchical levels: Cru Bourgeois; Cru Bourgeois du Médoc; and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel.
We are also introducing additional criteria for the properties applying for Crus Bourgeois Supérieur and Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel:
- They must be able to show they follow good agricultural and environmental practices.
- We will assess the technical management of the property.
- And we will look at how they are promoting the wines through sales and marketing.
Why are you making these changes?
We can pick out three main reasons:
- Despite requiring a good quality level for each Cru Bourgeois, some of our members are managing to get a much higher quality for their wines and today these chateaux are a little bit lost among the large Crus Bourgeois du Médoc offer. It is important to highlight the properties that have reached a very high quality of wine, sometimes with fabulous chateaux.
- The hierarchy is also part of the identity, the DNA if you like, of the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc: from the XVIII century, the brand name has always been split into different levels corresponding to different quality levels.
- We are also responding to strong demand within the sector (different markets) and from our members.
What impact do you hope they will bring?
It will create an emulation among the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc willing to reach a higher level of quality. It will allow us to evaluate the consistency of the wine quality of a specific Château and therefore give a chance to the wines that are able to age.
The changes will also allow each property to position its Cru Bourgeois in a market segment suited to its reputation, quality, and commercial dynamism. We believe that will, in turn, help create greater commercial sustainability for producers and buyers.
The new classification system will also hopefully simplify the message to both sellers and consumers. For instance, it will mean wines under the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc classification can be placed on restaurant wine lists and give consumers a better understanding and knowledge of the wine positioning for the different levels: Cru Bourgeois; Cru Bourgeois Supérieur; or Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel.
What have been the biggest milestones you have achieved since introducing the quality assurance programme in 2009?
We saved the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc by giving them a serious quality framework with an independent body checking the quality of the wines, in an impartial way through blind tastings, where each Cru Bourgeois bottle could be properly identified and authenticated. After nine years within this framework, we felt it was time to set up a new classification.
Once the Cru Bourgeois classification had been saved and retained its credibility in the market, we could then go on and develop a large promotion programme in France, UK and Belgium, then in the US, Germany and Asia.
Importantly we have convinced the French authorities to allow us to set up a new classification. But we have learnt from the past and this classification ensures it abides to the key fundamental principles that ensures a thorough specification and verification procedure, which is approved by a ministerial, independent body and that there is an authentication sticker for each vintage.
What have been the biggest challenges along the way?
To convince the French authorities that this classification project was strong enough to last for the next few decades. It took us five years to build this serious and impartial project.
What do you hope the Cru Bourgeois accreditation can achieve in the future?
First we hope this classification will give each property the incentive and opportunity to position its Cru Bourgeois in the right market segment that is best suited to its reputation, quality, and commercial dynamism.
What can buyers expect at next week’s tasting?
They will have the chance to taste a 2017 vintage of real quality even though yields are smaller at the number of Cru Bourgeois estates that were affected by the spring frost. It will also be our last vintage that comes under our annual quality procedure. Buyers will also have the chance to taste a large number of Crus Bourgeois du Médoc whose 2016 vintage quality is amazing.
What are the hopes for the 2018 vintage in terms of quality and size.
It has been a sunny vintage and we are looking forward to great quality wines thanks to the beautiful weather we have had so far during the harvest. But we are just at the beginning of picking so we need to wait until the end of the harvest to determine the overall quality of the vintage. The 2018 will be the first vintage of the new future Cru Bourgeois classification.
- The Crus Bourgeois du Médoc 2016 Official Selection Trade & Press Tasting takes place on September 27 atThe British Academy, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AH, 10am-5pm. To register click here.