In a description that could only have been invented by the French, the Crus Bourgeois are Médoc châteaux that produce wines of typicity and quality but generally without the breed of their finer aristocratic cousins from the 1855 Classification.
Born in 1932 in response to the dire market conditions of the post-war and post-Depression years, the purpose of the Cru Bourgeois classification was to identify and give a commercial boost to these lesser known estates. Although never officially ratified by the Agriculture Ministry, it is a name that has struck a chord with consumers, providing a beacon to guide them through the thousands of Bordeaux's Petits Châteaux.
Even if there is a wide variation in quality, Cru Bourgeois wines have increasingly built a reputation for quality and value. Today, they represent about 40% of the Médoc's total production.
The history of the Cru Bourgeois classification has been rocky, to say the least. The 1932 classification designated 444 estates as Cru Bourgeois but by the 1960s over 300 had been absorbed into other estates or had converted their land away from viticulture. However, with the popularity and quality of Cru Bourgeois wines at an all-time high a new classification was introduced in 2003 by the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois.
They split the wine into three tiers: Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel, Cru Bourgeois Supérieur and Cru Bourgeois. It was also decided that the classification would be redone every 12 years. Rating the estates based on tasting each property's wines from 1994-1999, the Alliance showed an admirable strictness rarely seen in wine classifications. Of the 490 châteaux that applied for Cru Bourgeois status the Alliance accepted only 247. In the final reckoning there were 9 Crus Bourgeois Exceptionels, 87 Crus Bourgeois Supérieurs and 151 Crus Bourgeois.
All was not sweetness and light, however. Estates that had been recently purchased, like Jean-Christophe Mau's Ch. Preuillac, complained bitterly (and reasonably) that tasting only up to the 1999 vintage discriminated against those estates which had recently improved. In 2004 a Bordeaux court found in favour of the 76 estates who had complained. It declared their ranking within the new classification void, but overall declared the classification sound.
In 2007, however, a Bordeaux magistrate decided that the whole process had been tainted by partiality and conflict of interest and thus decreed the whole 2003 Crus Bourgeois classification null and void. Soon afterwards the French fraud office dealt the classification a seemingly mortal blow by banning the use of the term 'Cru Bourgeois' altogether. Responding with admirable speed but a misleading fudge, the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois swiftly proposed a rather odd new term 'Label Cru Bourgeois' which would be 'not a classification but a mark of quality' and would be based on production and quality standards, awarded each year by tasting.
It was all getting very confusing but thankfully the end of February 2008 seems to have brought hope and a light at the end of the tunnel for the beleaguered Cru Bourgeois classification. Seemingly beset by a new spirit of cooperation and conciliation, the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois have proposed a format for the Cru Bourgeois classification to be reintroduced in 2009 that has been agreed by 180 estates from the defunct 2003 ranking along with 95 new members. Exact details remain sketchy but this single-tier classification will be based on a new set of production rules (including 18 months ageing in barrel) and independent quality testing. The terms Cru Bourgeois Supérieur or Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel will no longer be used. The Alliance (and indeed everyone else) is hoping for official approval from the French authorities for the new plan by mid-2008.
Below is a list of the estates from the now defunct 2003 classification:
Château Les Ormes de Pez
Château de Pez
Cru Bourgeois Supérieur
Château Le Boscq
Château Cambon La Pelouse
Château Cap Léon Veyrin
Château La Cardonne
Château Caronne Ste-Gemme
Château Clément Pichon
Château Le Crock
Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux
Château Fourcas Dupré
Château Fourcas Hosten
Château Fourcas Loubaney
Château du Glana
Château Les Grands Chênes
Château Gressier Grand Poujeaux
Château La Gurgue
Château Haut-Bages Monpelou
Château La Haye