Wednesday, February 24, 2010

(German) Winemakers in the World: The German Roots of the Baron Philippe de Rothschild Empire

Picture: Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, New York Times

(German) Winemakers in the World: The German Roots of the Baron Philippe de Rothschild Empire

The roots of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild – and the Rothschild empire in general – are in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Towards the end of the 18th century Mayer Amschel Rothschild, a money changer from Frankfurt am Main, born in 1744, had five sons and decided to install them in the five major European centers of the time.

* Amschel Mayer Rothschild (1773–1855): Frankfurt
* Salomon Mayer Rothschild (1774–1855): Vienna
* Nathan Mayer Rothschild (1777–1836): London
* Calmann Mayer Rothschild (1788–1855): Naples
* Jakob Mayer Rothschild (1792–1868): Paris

Picture: The House of the Rothschilds in Frankfurt am Main

The Rothschild brothers became one of the major force in the far reaching changes that swept through Europe, while their father had not been allowed to purchase land outside of the Frankfurt am Main ghetto. During the 19th century, they were the bankes to monarchs and governments, bankers to Napoleon’s Europe and then in the industrial area the builders of the modern economy through their investmet in railways.

Interestingly, the other great son of Frankfurt, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832) was born only a few years later and also had a tremendous influence on Europe. Goethe is considered by many to be the most important writer in the German language and one of the most important thinkers in Western culture as well. Goethe is the originator of the concept of Weltliteratur ("world literature"), having taken great interest in the literatures of England, France, Italy, classical Greece, Persia, the Arab world, and others. Goethe's influence spread across Europe, and for the next century his works were a major source of inspiration in music, drama, poetry and philosophy.

Back to Rothschild and the high finances … and wine. Around 1850, Baron Nathaniel, from the English branch, decided to move to Paris. Entertaining the leading personalities of his day, Baron Nathaniel Rothschild, wanted to be able to serve them his wine. In 1853, Nathaniel Rothschild purchased the Chateau Brane Mouton in Pauillac, in the heart of the Medoc region. Rothschild quickly gave his own name to his new property, which became known as Chateau Mouton Rothschild.

In 1868, Nathaniel's uncle, James Mayer de Rothschild acquired the neighboring Chateau Lafite vineyard. and the estate became Château Lafite Rothschild. Baron James, however, died just three months after purchasing Lafite. The estate then became the joint property of his three sons: Alphonse, Gustave, and Edmond.

The vineyard purchase came just before the first official classification of the Gironde region wines. Unfortunately for Rothschild, the classification, presented on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition of 1855, was made according to price, not quality. Because wines from the Mouton Rothschild estate sold for slightly less than its famous neighbors--Lafitte, Latour, Margaux, and Haut Brion, which all received First Growth qualification--Mouton Rothschild was subsequently classified as a premium Second Growth wine. Yet neither Nathaniel, nor his son James, who inherited the estate after his father's death in 1870, took an active interest in running the vineyard. Nor did Nathaniel's grandson, Henri, who was to turn over the winery to his youngest son, Philippe, in 1922.

Philippe Rothschild was to revolutionize the Bordeaux wine industry. Coming from Paris, where he had become a well-known patron and friend of the lively art scene in that city, the 20-year-old Rothschild arrived in a region with a business structure unchanged since the 19th century. Rothschild, however, took the running of the Chateau Mouton Rothschild estate in his own hands--and in doing so, sent a wake-up call to the entire region. From the start, Philippe Rothschild began to challenge the wine classification system, adopting the motto 'Premier ne puis, Second ne daigne, Mouton suis' (First I may not be, Second I will not be, Mouton I am).

Picture: Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac, France

One of Rothschild's first and boldest moves was to begin bottling his wine at the chateau itself, breaking with long-standing industry tradition. Until then, wineries sent their wine in casks to wine merchants in the city of Bordeaux, who then undertook the responsibility of stocking the casks for the two-year aging process, before bottling the wines. Although labels had been in use since the middle of the 19th century, they served merely to provide basic information about the wine contained in the bottle--or what, at any rate, was supposed to be in the bottle. Because the chateaux did not bottle their own wines, no one could guarantee the contents of the bottles bearing their names. The system also placed control of the wine industry with the merchants, rather than the chateaux themselves

By 1924, Chateau Mouton Rothschild was ready to release its first self-bottled vintage. For the occasion, Rothschild commissioned popular poster designer Jean Carlu to design a label for the chateau. Carlu's cubist-inspired label shocked the wine community--Philippe Rothschild was to scrap the label design only two years later--but nonetheless succeeded in calling worldwide attention to the new era of Rothschild wines. In the years leading up to the World War II, the Rothschild chateau continued to experiment with its wine labels.

In 1932, Mouton Cadet was launched, a very successful day-to-day Bordeaux wine that is available now around the globe. Disfied with the quality of the 1930 vintage, Rothschild refused to bottle the wine under the chateau's label. Yet because the wine was nonetheless of good quality, Rothschild created a new name for the wine: Mouton Cadet. The Cadet name, first released in 1932, was later to become a brand name for the wine blended by the company from grapes bought from Bordeaux region producers. The original Cadet vintages, however, were bottled from the family's own vineyards.

Mouton Cadet proved a success and inspired Rothschild to expand the family's vineyard holdings to supply its growing production needs. In 1933, Rothschild acquired neighboring Chateau Mouton d'Armailhacq, then classified as a Fifth Growth vineyard. With that purchase the company also acquired the wholesaler company Société Vinicole de Pauillac, bringing Rothschild into the distribution arena and providing the basis for what was later to become Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA.

France's capitulation to the Nazi invaders and the installation of the collaborative Vichy government nearly spelled disaster to the Rothschild wine business. The chateau itself was occupied by the Nazis and made a German headquarters, while the Vichy government placed operations of the vineyard under its agricultural department's control. Philippe Rothschild and his family were captured--Rothschild's wife was killed in a Nazi death camp--but Philippe Rothschild managed to escape, finally joining up to fight with the Free French army under General Charles de Gaulle.

Returning to his chateau after the war, Rothschild decided to allow his first post-war vintage to celebrate the Allied victory. Rothschild asked friend Philippe Julian to design a new label for the 1945 vintage. Based on Churchill's famed V-sign, the label sparked a new era for Mouton Rothschild. As Philippine Rothschild told Wine Spectator, 'he wanted to let the world know that Mouton had survived the war.'

Rothschild, who had already been among the pioneers in recognizing the marketing potential of a wine's label, now decided that the label for each year's vintage was to feature an original piece of artwork--commissioned from Rothschild's circle of friends, only some of whom were artists. Yet all received the same payment: five cases from that year's vintage, plus five cases chosen from the Rothschild cellars.
In 1955, the Rothschild label took on a still more serious role. That year's label featured a design from famed painted Georges Braque. From then on, the Rothschild labels were to become a showcase for the world's top contemporary artists, featuring, among others, drawing and paintings from Joan Miro, Salvador Dali, Henry Moore, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and later artists such as Keith Haring, Balthus, and others.

The company expanded its production again in 1970, when it acquired another Pauillac Fifth Growth property, Chateau Clerc Milon. This and the company's other fifth growth chateaux became a central part of the company's increasingly diversified product, as it began to target specific markets, such as the restaurant, specialized retail, supermarket, and other segments, with specific labels.

The company got a major boost in 1973, when, after nearly 50 years of pressure from Philippe Rothschild, the Bordeaux region was reclassified according to the quality of its wines. At long last, Mouton Rothschild was classified among the First Growth growers.

Picture: Opus One Winery in Napa Valley

The growing importance of California wines, which, under such names as Robert Mondavi, had been steadily increasing in quality, led Rothschild for the first time to branch out beyond France. In 1979, Mondavi and Rothschild formed the joint venture Opus One. Bringing French oak casks and wine varieties and Rothschild techniques to California's Napa Valley region, Opus One was designed as a premium quality producer. Indeed, the new winery--led by Mondavi's son Tim Mondavi--quickly became classified among the world's top-quality wines.

Philippe Rothschild died in 1988 at the age of 86. Philippine de Rothschild took over the chateau's operations.

During the 1990s, Mouton Cadet became the company's spearhead into the mass market. Boosted by the Rothschild name, Mouton Cadet quickly became one of the world's top-selling branded wines, with more than 14 million bottles sold each year. Rothschild continued to look for new international opportunities. The growing maturity of the Chilean wine industry led the company to conclude a new joint-venture agreement, this time with that country's largest vintner, Concho y Toro, to create the premium class Almaviva wine. The first Almaviva vintage was released in 1998, to worldwide acclaim.

In that year, Rothschild acquired a new property, Domaine de Lambert, near Saint-Polycarpe, in the Languedoc region. That purchase marked a departure for the company; it was its first vineyard holdings outside of the Bordeaux region.

Key Dates:

1853: Nathaniel de Rothschild buys Chateau Brane Mouton.
1855: Chateau Mouton Rothschild is classified as second growth.
1922: Philippe de Rothschild takes over operation of chateau; begins bottling at the chateau.
1924: The first chateau-bottled vintage is released.
1933: The company acquires of Chateau Mouton d'Armailhacq.
1945: The first Mouton Rothschild label featuring artwork appears.
1956: The company is incorporated as Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA.
1959: The Georges Braque label is introduced.
1970: The company acquires Chateau Clerc Millon.
1973: Mouton Rothschild receives first growth classification.
1979: The company begins Opus One joint-venture with Mondavi.
1988: Philippe de Rothschild dies.
1990: Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA becomes the official company name.
1997: The company launches Almaviva joint-venture with Concho y Toro.
1998: The company purchases Domaine de Lambert.

Source: Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

This is part of the series German wine makers in the world:

Johann Schiller, father of Canada's Wine Industry

Wolf Blass in Australia

Swiss-German Donald Hess, US, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Australia

Hermann J. Wiemer, Finger Lakes, US

Anton (Antoine) Mueller, 1800s,France,

Dr. Konstantin Frank, 1900s,USA

Christian Woelffer and Roman Roth, USA

Robert Anton Schlumberger, 1800s, Austria

Robert Stemmler, USA

Eduard Werle, 1800s, France

The Label of 2007 Chateau Mouton Rothschild designed by Bernar Venet

In the glass: Hugel et Fils wines and the Cuisine des Emotions de Jean Luc Brendel in Riquewihr, Alsace

Wine Bars: Paris of Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurant Grimod de la Reyniere

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