The Crus Bourgeois are a legacy that dates back to the Middle Ages.
The bourgeois were inhabitants of the "bourg" of Bordeaux, a town of merchants and craftsmen. During the period of English rule, they acquired rights and privileges, including exemption from taxes on the sale of the wines from their vineyards both locally (Guyenne) and abroad.
By the fifteenth century, enriched by their international commerce, the bourgeois of Bordeaux were able to acquire the finest properties in the region, which were initially referred to as the "Crus des Bourgeois" and then simply the "Crus Bourgeois".
A text from 1740 contains the first selection and specifies the prices of the wines of the Médoc.
The French Revolution resulted in the privileges granted to the Bourgeois being revoked and the Crus des Bourgeois suffered during this period of social turmoil.
However, over the centuries they played an increasing role in the development of the Médoc vineyards through the export of their wines.
In the early nineteenth century, the Crus Bourgeois (about 300 châteaus) were still present and their prices had already been established as being higher than those of the Crus Artisans and Crus Paysans.
After 1855, the authorities planned to create additional classes in the already famous existing classification with a view to incorporating some of the Crus Bourgeois.
At that time, 248 Crus Bourgeois were listed. Mr. d’Armailhac’s book, published in 1858, lists 34 bourgeois supérieurs, 64 bons bourgeois and 150 bourgeois ordinaires.
In the early twentieth century, the Crus Bourgeois developed and occupied an important place in export markets, notably Germany and Russia.
The First World War brought an abrupt stop to this growth, and the situation became worse with the Great Depression of 1929. While the number of properties decreased, there were plenty of producers in the Médoc to keep the traditional "Cru Bourgeois" description alive and in use.
In 1932, the Bordeaux wine brokers, under the joint authority of the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce and the Gironde Chamber of Agriculture designated 444 Crus Bourgeois. This list was registered with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry but was never submitted for ministerial approval, however, it was to serve as a reference for the commercial use of the term for more than 70 years.
On 21 May 1962, a union of the Crus Bourgeois was created in Pauillac. It was managed by a board of directors with four members, Mr. Jean Nony, Mr. Jean Miailhe, Mr. Philippe Gasqueton and Mr. Max Cuvelier. The purpose of this union was to study and defend the interests of the owners and producers of the Crus Bourgeois of the Médoc. It organized an internal classification on two occasions in 1966 and 1978, to promote a competitive spirit within the Crus Bourgeois.
In 1979, the European Community labelling regulations approved the traditional term of "Cru Bourgeois" provided that the conditions for its use were specified by French law.
In 1985, there was a substantial increase in demand for Crus Bourgeois wines. As a result, the union created the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc Cup which further enhanced their reputation. This cup was extremely successful, and was organized every year until 1999.
In 2000, the ministerial order of 30 November 2000, signed by the minister of agriculture at that time, Mr. Jean Glavany and by the state secretary for SMEs, crafts and consumption, Mr. François Patriat, stipulated the rules for the organization of the Crus Bourgeois classification. This was an open classification by the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Gironde Chamber of Agriculture and the Fédération des Grands Vins of Bordeaux. Its purpose was to establish a quality hierarchy for the Crus Bourgeois for the AOC wines of "Médoc", "Haut-Médoc", "Listrac", "Margaux", "Moulis", "Pauillac", "Saint Estèphe" and "Saint Julien". The classification consisted of three quality categories : Crus Bourgeois Exceptionnels, Crus Bourgeois Supérieurs and Crus Bourgeois.
The classification was established by a jury of 18 professionals recognized in the Place de Bordeaux who had to judge the wines on the basis of seven criteria : the nature of the terroir, the grape variety, the approach taken in the vineyard, to the wine-making, to the management and general presentation of the property, to the bottling conditions, to consistency in the quality of the product, and the wine’s reputation and to the organoleptic qualities of the wine.
On 17 June 2003, a ministerial order finally approved the first official classification of the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc which recognized 247 châteaus out of 490 candidates.
Some of the châteaus that were not included denounced this classification as unfair. The judging panel was composed of eighteen professionals including the President of the Union of the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc at that time (in accordance with the procedure stipulated in the ministerial order of 30 November 2000).
In 2007, the Administrative Court of Appeal of Bordeaux annulled the Decree of 17 June 2003 that had approved the classification of the Cru Bourgeois du Médoc. This decision was made on the basis that one cannot judge something in which one has an interest.
Between 2007 and 2009, following the remarkable mobilisation of the wine producers of the Médoc in the formation of the Alliance des Crus Bourgeois du Médoc, the traditional centuries old description of "Cru Bourgeois", was reborn thanks to the rigorous quality assurance procedure put in place by the union. This collective approach has enabled the description to be saved, while at the same time proposing a form of quality assurance that has been recognized by the public authorities.
In 2009, the new quality assurance initiative was approved by the public authorities : the Decree of 20 October 2009 and the ministerial order of 16 November 2009 authorized a qualitative selection procedure for the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc. The Crus Bourgeois du Médoc Official Selection has been published every year in September since 2010.
The Crus Bourgeois are part of Bordeaux’s wine heritage.
Some properties existed long before the creation of the 1855 classification and many are still here today in a demonstration of the strength of the traditional "Cru Bourgeois" description.
The Crus Bourgeois form a big family that brings together vineyards with widely differing profiles, and very different terroirs (eight prestigious AOCs : Médoc, Haut-Médoc, Listrac-Médoc, Moulis en Médoc, Margaux, Saint Julien, Pauillac and Saint Estèphe), led by a variety of producers, many of whom have their origins in the Médoc, but who also come from other countries and regions, bringing dynamism and new ideas.
This is the strength of this family : diversity in unity. The vineyards share the same region and the same history, but each has its own character and offers the consumer something different.
This diversity can be found at every level : winemaking techniques, flavour, price, reputation, marketing, approaches to wine tourism, communication, presence on social media, etc.
Ultimately, the members of this family, the largest in the Bordeaux region, share the same ambition : the defence of the traditional "Cru Bourgeois" classification, in a world in which the preservation of expertise in the creation of quality has become a symbol of luxury.
As a result of their selection criteria and positioning in terms of price, the Crus Bourgeois are ideally suited to today’s markets and the requirements of increasingly demanding consumers.