Saint Émilion wines were not included in the original 1855 Bordeaux classification.
“Château Ausone and Château Cheval Blanc are the only two wines currently classified as Premiers grands crus classes A (First Great Growths category A). There are then 13 Premiers grands crus classés B and 53 grands crus classés. In addition, a large number of vineyards are classified as Grand Cru.” Wikipedia
Here’s the UNESCO description:
“Viticulture was introduced to this fertile region of Aquitaine by the Romans, and intensified in the Middle Ages. The Saint-Emilion area benefited from its location on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela and many churches, monasteries and hospices were built there from the 11th century onwards. It was granted the special status of a ‘jurisdiction’ during the period of English rule in the 12th century. It is an exceptional landscape devoted entirely to wine-growing, with many fine historic monuments in its towns and villages.
The Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion is an outstanding example of a historic vineyard landscape that has survived intact and in activity to the present day.
The first traces of human settlement in the Saint-Emilion region date back at least to the Upper Palaeolithic (35,000-10,000 BC). The Pierrefitte menhir confirms human presence in the 5th-4th millennia BC. The region was heavily populated during the Celtic-Gaulish period, as testified by an oppidum (defended hill fort) on the plateau overlooking modern Saint-Emilion. The Roman occupation began when Augustus created the province of Aquitania in 27 BC with the first vineyards by grafting new varieties of grape on the Vitis biturica that grew naturally in the region.
The first Christian monasteries appear at the beginning of the 7th century. As the region was on the Pilgrimage Route to Santiago de Compostela, from the 11th century onwards it experienced great prosperity and many monasteries, churches and other religious buildings were founded.
When Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet (later Henry II of England), the town of Saint-Emilion, by then fortified, became part of the English Kingdom, along with all Guyenne. The town was to change hands repeatedly in the course of the Hundred Years’ War; in 1453 it became French permanently. It was to suffer again during the Wars of Religion in the later 16th century; as a result the town retained its medieval appearance until the 18th century, when its fortifications were dismantled.
This had an adverse effect on the vineyards, and it was not until 1853 that Saint-Emilion started to recover, thanks to its vineyards. In the 18th century the quality of the wines from the region was recognized as exceptional. During the Second Empire production of red wines in the region became generalized, replacing the white wines that had been most common in the medieval period. Their distribution was greatly facilitated by the opening in 1853 of the railway line between Paris and Bordeaux. By comparison with other vineyard regions of the Bordelais, Saint-Emilion has been noteworthy for its innovations, such as the establishment of the first wine syndicate in 1884 and the first cooperative cellars in the Gironde in 1932.
The property covers 7,846 ha; the relief characterized by a stratum of limestone defined by shelves that criss-cross the landscape. This disappears to the north and is replaced by a heterogeneous mixture of clayey sands and gravels, dipping towards the south. Two slopes are clearly distinguishable: the northern one is gentle and cut by valleys, the southern steeply plunging into the Dordogne valley and forming concave valleys (combes ), in one of which the town of Saint-Emilion is situated. The landscape presents a monoculture, that of vineyards exclusively, and occupying more than 67.5% of the total area. Apart from the human settlements, the only other traces of exploitation are the abandoned underground quarries, which supplied limestone for the religious and public buildings of Bordeaux and its hinterland until the 18th century.
Before viticulture predominated, medieval and Renaissance castles were built on dominant sites as seigniorial residences. Examples are the 13th-century Château Laroque (Saint-Christophe-des-Bardes), the 14th-century Château de Preyssac (Saint-Étienne-de-Lisse), and the 16th-century Château Ferrand (Saint-Hippolyte). By contrast, the ‘vineyard’ castles are located at the centre of their respective domains. They range in date from the mid-18th century (Château Ausone, Château Canon) through the early 19th century (Château Cheval-Blanc, Château Mondot) to the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Château Laroze, Château La Gaffalière).
Settlements are characterized by modest stone houses, most dating from the first half of the 19th century. They never have more than two storeys, and are found in small groups, for the use of vineyard workers. The chais (wine storehouses) are large functional rectangular structures built from stone or a mixture of brick and stone, with tiled double-pitched roofs.” UNESCO
“The Roman occupation began when Augustus created the province of Aquitania in 27 BC. With the prosperity of Burdigala (Bordeaux), Valerius Probus used his legions to fell the Cumbris forest in AD 275 BC and created the first vineyards by grafting new varieties of grape on the Vitis biturica that grew naturally in the region. There are considerable traces of Roman occupation, especially rich villas, and it was here that the Latin poet Ausonius retired when he withdrew from public affairs in the 4th century.
When Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet (later Henry II of England), the town of Saint-Emilion, by then fortified, became part of the English kingdom, along with all Guyenne. King John granted the town full liberties in 1199.
In 1224, when this part of Guyenne had been recovered for France, Louis VIII began work on the Royal Castle, not to be completed until 1237, by Henry III of England. In 1298 Edward I signed a decree defining the limits of the jurisdiction. Five years later it became once again part of France under Philippe Le Bel, though it was to change hands repeatedly in the course of the Hundred Years’ War.
In 1453 it became French permanently, and three years later Charles VII confirmed all the privileges granted by the English to the town to help it re-establish itself. It was to suffer again during the Wars of Religion in the later 16th century and, despite the efforts of Louis XIV, it lost its leading position to Libourne. As a result the town retained its medieval appearance until the 18th century, when its fortifications were dismantled. Profound social changes were introduced during the Revolution which destroyed the old order, dating from the Middle Ages, and many of the ancient buildings were demolished or fell into ruins.
These had an adverse effect on the vineyards, and it was not until 1853 that Saint-Emilion started to recover, thanks to its vineyards. During the 12th and 13th centuries these had produced what were known as vins honorifiques (known in English as “Royal wines”) because they were presented as gifts to kings and important people, which gives an indication of their quality. A regulatory body known as La Jurade monitored the quality of the wine of Saint-Emilion and granted this appellation to a limited number of wines.
The demands of Flemish consumers in the 18th century led to an increase in viticulture, since the quality of the Saint- Emilion wines enabled them to be transported by sea without the wine turning into vinegar. That century saw the quality of the wines from the region becoming recognized as exceptional, as witnessed by countless records of the period. During the Second Empire production of red wines in the region became generalized, replacing the white wines that had been most common in the medieval period. Their distribution was greatly facilitated by the opening in 1853 of the railway line between Paris and Bordeaux.” UNESCO
Learn more about Saint-Emilion here:
Here’s a video from UNESCO; http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/932/video
Book a room at the Chateau Grand Barrail, in a lavish wine estate overlooking the vineyards. http://www.grand-barrail.com/uk/
Dr. EveAnn Lovero writes Travel Guides @ www.vino-con-vista.com