Explore / The Road Less Travelled

Beaujolais: The Not-So-Famous Budker Classification of 1869


Tim Sykes Tim Sykes / 02 April 2020

Many Wine Society members, particularly those who are avid claret buyers, will have heard of the 1855 classification of the top châteaux of the Médoc. This ranking, which was drawn up at the request of Napoleon III ahead of the Universal Exhibition of Paris, was intended to highlight Bordeaux's most highly regarded properties to those visiting the exhibition. The system that was devised as a basis for the ranking was to establish the relative market prices achieved by the châteaux's wines over previous, recent years with the highest – First Growth – ranking going to the wines consistently commanding the highest prices. The 1855 classification endures almost unchanged to this day, and whilst not entirely reliable 165 years later, has proven to be a remarkably resilient gauge to guide consumers in their buying decisions.

But rather fewer people know about the 1869 classification of the Beaujolais region by the distinguished engineer Antoine Budker. I certainly hadn't come across it until last week when one of our suppliers – Château du Moulin-à-Vent – emailed me. Monsieur Budker painstakingly mapped the vineyards of Beaujolais, as well as those of the Mâconnais and the Côte Chalonnaise to the north. In addition, he highlighted the best lieux-dits (ie. vineyard sub-regions) within the villages and communes of Beaujolais, ranking the best sites from 1st to 5th class – bear in mind that this was nearly 70 years before the official system of appellation d'origine contrôlée came into being in Beaujolais. Unlike the Bordeaux classification mentioned above the Budker version was based on the quality of terroir (soil, exposure, altitude, drainage, micro-climate etc.), rather than the prices that the wines commanded on the open market.

1869 Classification of Beaujolais Wine Regions
1869 Classification of Beaujolais Wine Regions

1869 Classification of Beaujolais Wine Regions
1869 Classification of Beaujolais Wine Regions

According to the Budker ranking the top-rated (1st class) vineyards were in the following villages/communes:

Today's appellation 'First class' rated vineyards
Moulin-à-Vent 7 vineyards, including Les Caves, Rochegrès, La Rochelle, Les Thorins & Carquelins
Fleurie 5 vineyards, including La Roilette, Les Moriers, Le Garant & Poncié
Morgon 3 vineyards including Le Pis (Py) & Le Grand-Cras
Juliénas 3 vineyards, including Les Capitans
Brouilly 1 vineyard

Members might recognise some of the above vineyards and I have bought a wonderful selection from many of them which we look forward to sharing later in the year. 2018 is a top-notch vintage in Beaujolais.

Right up to the 1970s producers like Château du Moulin-à-Vent, who had (and have) vines in the top-rated vineyards, labelled their wines 'Grand Cru Classé'.
Right up to the 1970s producers like Château du Moulin-à-Vent, who had (and have) vines in the top-rated vineyards, labelled their wines 'Grand Cru Classé'.

Chateau du
Château du Moulin-à-Vent wine label

Today Beaujolais' only official rankings are through the appellation d'origine contrôlée system which came into being from 1936, with a simple three-tier arrangement – Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, and the so-called 'crus', the villages with the best terroirs, the most popular of which at The Society are Fleurie, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent. Unlike the Côte d'Or in Burgundy there are no premier or grand cru wines, but with the resurgence in interest for top quality Beaujolais a number of properties are pressing for this to change – perhaps a return to the old Budker system?!

Browse our range of Beaujolais

Read our Travels in Wine write up from Tim's trip there in 2019

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