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What wine region deserves World Heritage status? Does any?

June 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Wine


I almost did a spit-take on reading that the organization that oversees the 1855 Bordeaux classification is applying for UNESCO World Heritage status.

 UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which is sort of the U.N.’s kumbaya wing; and part of it is the World Heritage Centre, which recognizes world sites of great historical and cultural importance and seeks to protect and preserve them. Among the 962 recognized World Heritage sites are Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the historic center of Vienna, the Magao caves of China, the Acropolis, Israel’s Masada, the Pyramids of Egypt and, here in the States, Mammoth Cave, Yellowstone and the Statue of Liberty.

And now–let me get this straight–the Bordelais want to include a list of wineries? What am I failing to understand here?

The Classification was drawn up, let us remember, by wine brokers, who had been asked by the Emperor Napoleon to choose wines to display at a Paris exposition. It was nothing more nor less than a price list. True, it has assumed far more importance over the decades, but it’s hard to see how a “classification” can be included on a list of World Heritage sites. I suppose I might have more sympathy with the nomination if they had suggested Bordeaux itself as a region, rather than the 1855 Classification. But then, Bordeaux already received World Heritage status (in 2007), so what is it that the nominators are looking for, beyond that? All we have to go by is the Decanter story; I could find no additional information on the Internet. Here’s how the magazine quoted Phillippe Castéja, president of the Conseil des Grands Crus Classés, in explaining his group’s nomination:

The 1855 classification is the fruit of both natural and human factors and it has only gained in importance over time. Its value lies not just in the excellence of the wines, but the architectural richness its chateaux have brought to Bordeaux, the artisanal trades that it supports, from hand-picking of grapes to traditional vine pruning skills, to the renown that it has bought to France across the world.

This is true, as far as it goes, but Bordeaux’s architectural heritage already was honored in that 2007 World Heritage status, and it’s not clear to me (from an admittedly inadequate but nonetheless fairly closely scrutinized review of the existing list) that there are any other World Heritage sites that are devoted to “trades” and “skills,” as opposed to places. Nor is it clear from the Operational Guidelines whether such recognition is even possible.

It may be that the Bordelais are seeking recognition, not as a “natural heritage” (such as Mammoth Cave) but as a “cultural landscape,” which is allowed. The Guidelines define “cultural landscape” as, briefly, “the combined works of nature and man,” and as “illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time.” But it’s very hard to see how the 1855 Classification would qualify as a “cultural landscape” the way, say, the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces of China (which is currently nominated for Heritage status) are. It looks to me like the Bordelais, having achieved their World Heritage status six years ago, are looking to gild the lily.

Maybe I’m wrong. But if the 1855 Classification is worthy of World Heritage status, then so are the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. I therefore officially nominate our founding documents.

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