St Emilion and the mysteries of the Appelation Controllee system

I have strong links to the winery, with happy memories of Treeton Estate, being David’s niece and recently becoming a part-owner of the winery. I have been travelling in France before starting a study leave program at Strathclyde University and wanted to pen a few lines on the Bordeaux region, a place David remembers fondly from his time in the French wine industry.
(C) 2008 Helen McGowan
I centred my time in St Emilion, an enchanting medieval village which is UNESCO heritage–protected and has been a region of wine-making excellence for centuries. The traditions are revered, treasured and nurtured.

As many of you probably know, France has had a long tradition of restricting an appellations to specific regions and quality wines. Hence only sparkling wine produced by methode champenoise in the Champagne region is rightfully (and now legally) called Champagne. The processes which allow a winery to use AOC (Appellation-Origine-Controlle) certification involves regulations regarding watering, pruning and planting processes and also tends to restrict certain varieties of wine to specific regions in the belief that a particular terroir is optimal for some grapes.

St Emilion is an appellation within the Bordeaux region. Wineries within this appellation are tested using rigorous testing methods every 10 years. This involves a series of blind tastings by wine masters, who taste a sample of every vintage over the previous 10 years and grade the winery on quality and consistency. The final gradings awarded are 1) Premiers Grands Crus Classés A 2) Premiers Grands Crus Classés B 3) Grands Crus Classés 4) Appellation Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Controlé and 5) Apellation Saint-Emilion Controlée. Wineries are entitled to display these on their bottles for the next ten years and have a marked impact on the sales price of the wine and the wineries.
(C) 2008 Helen McGowan
There is a marked variation in the quality of wines with this rigorous quality control and those that are mass produced for table wines. St Emilion is unusual in France in that the wineries submit to this process every 10 years, where as in many other French regions, the gradings were done more than 100 years ago, so may not reflect accurately the quality of the wines today and also limit the ability of new wine makers to establish a reputation.

Helen McGowan