Gaming the System in St. Emilion

Can you imagine any political body in America deciding that it will get in the business of determining which are the best wines of a region? The chorus of laughter would be so great it might threaten to down out the sound made by the collective grown of indignation.

That’s why I’ve been trying to follow This Story about the battle over the reclassification of the St. Emilion estates. I realize there is a long tradition in France of government sponsored classification and endorsement of certain winemaking estates. But I can’t get passed just how absurd this involvement of the government is.

The value of a winery that makes it into the St. emilion classification system rises anywhere from 10% to 50% based on their spot on the government approved list. This might be a reflection of a combination of things including tradition, the insecurity of wine drinkers in general and the fact that there is a lot of money tied up in the continued higher value assigned to certain estates that have been on this list for a long time.

But it’s also a reflection of a government-manipulated market. And folks think Robert Parker, the Wine Spectator and other wine reviewers have too much power. At least their opinions are not financed and sanctioned by the tax dollars of the people, but instead sanctioned by real market forces.

Can you imagine the flurry of lawsuits that would instantly materialize if any single government body in America all of a sudden determined they would endorse a certain small set of wineries as the best a region has to offer? Oh-My-God!

I think it would be fascinating if the Chateau and estates of St. emilion handled their legal disagreement by simply not playing along with the french government; not using their classification system, and going about the business of marketing and selling their wines all on their own. I have a funny feeling they might just go as far as they could with the system.

That said, given that the system of classification will remain in place in some configuration, I was thinking what I might do if a winery I owned in St. emilion. I know that the value of my estate would rise if I could get ranked by the government. I know that a "a jury of experts under the
supervision of the Ministry of Agriculture" makes the determination of which estates are included in the classification and the ranknig of these estates.

Given this, I’d want to find out every thing I possibly could about this jury. What they drink, what wine they buy, what wines they linger next to, what wines they order at restaurants, what chateau they’ve visited, what their friends drink and buy, etc., etc. I’d what to game the system as much as humanly possible and I’d spend a great deal of money on private detectives. I’d evaluate the molecular composition of every wine that makes it into the classification. I do whatever it takes to game this government run system if my livelihood and my family’s future depended so heavily on the outcome of the ranking of a government run body that deigns itself capable of determining and sanctioning quality in wine.

3 Responses

  1. name - September 9, 2008

    I don’t think a government should be picking which wineries are best, but I do lament that our (USA) wine regs aren’t a little more stringent than they are today. For example, you can STILL see the word Burgundy on an American bottle of wine (generally in a 4 liter jug), humid eastern states can still market grapes that have no business in a humid climate (thus necessitating a ton of fungicide spraying that is not needed so much west of the Rockies, in more vinifera-appropriate climes).
    It would not, for example, bother me one bit if vineyards were required to grow organically tomorrow.

  2. Thomas Pellechia - September 9, 2008

    Do you think the Medoc classifications are any different? They are worse–they don’t even update the way attempt to in St Emilion.

  3. Dylan - September 10, 2008

    Wow, Tom. That’s even more than I’d do for a Klondike bar; which if advertising, the bastion of all education, has taught us anything, is a lot.

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