A few weeks ago, the world of fine wine woke to the news that two of the top estates in St Emilion – Chateaux Cheval Blanc and Ausone, had decided to leave the appellation’s classification.
This week brought more discomfort for those who believe in these kinds of hierarchies, with the opening of the trial of the owners of two other top St Emilion chateaux for ‘illegal conflict of interest’. Hubert de Boüard of Chateau Angelus and Philippe Casteja of Chateau Trotte-Vieil had been accused by a number of other estates of having used their positions to their own and associated chateaux’s advantage when St Emilion revised its classification in 2012.
Unlike the Médoc and Graves/Pessac Léognan, St Emilion rewrites its list of Grands Crus Classés every decade, and this process has proved increasingly controversial among estate-owners who believe themselves to have been unfairly treated. In this case, the accusations against de Bouärd and Casteja were made by Château Corbin Michotte, Château Croque Michotte and Château La Tour du Pin Figeac.
Their assertion is that the two men lobbied successfully for their estates within the confines of meetings held by the INAO – France’s National Institute of Origin and Quality – which has responsibility for such matters.
The accused who staunchly refute the charges and say they were not even present at these events. are among the most illustrious figures in Bordeaux. Sixty-five year old De Bouärd has made spectacular efforts to raise the image and reputation of his chateau, going as far as to place his wine in a James Bond movie. As former president of the Conseil des Grands Crus Classés en 1855, Casteja who is seven years his senior, is a quintessential pillar of the Bordeaux establishment.
The case has been rumbling since the complaint was first raised in 2013 and, since no records were apparently made of who did or didn’t attend the INAO meetings or precisely what was said, it seems likely that it will end in acquittal. As Bordeaux expert Jane Anson, formerly Decanter and now of the website janeanson.com, said, “coming after the departure of Cheval Blanc and Ausone, whatever the outcome, the effect on the way the classification is viewed will be terrible.”