Château Mouton Rothschild | Embracing Change and Leading The Way
It appeared nothing could possibly be out of sorts upon arriving at the beautifully set table in the private dining room of Château Mouton Rothschild. Me and my fellow Millésima blog award winners were in for a very special afternoon, as we were about to enjoy lunch with not one, but three members of the prominent Rothschild family: Camille Sereys de Rothschild, Philippe Sereys de Rothschild and Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild.
After carefully examining the table for our seat assignments, we were about to sit down for what was sure to be one of, if not the most memorable lunch of our lives when Philippe intervened – announcing that a great deal of thought had been given to each seat assignment. He then effortlessly rearranged several assignments, seating me next to him. (My fellow writers were also strategically seated so as to have a chance to comfortably converse with a member of the family.)
Feeling humbled and frankly a bit surprised, I mentioned to Philippe that I was honored to sit with him. His fantastic response set the tone for the remainder of our afternoon, when he jokingly quipped: “Let me know if you feel the same way after lunch.” As one of France’s noblest families, the Rothschilds possessed an unexpected humility and sense of humor, somehow managing to make us feel right at home at their table.
Philippe is the grandson of Bordeaux legend Baron Philippe de Rothschild and the son of the late Baroness Philippine de Rothschild and her first husband Jacques Sereys. He has succeeded the immensely respected Philippine as Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, effectively placing him in charge of the three classified growths he owns along with his family: Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Clerc Milon and Château d’Armailhac.
The family enterprise also encompasses the wildly successful Mouton Cadet portfolio as well as the partnership with the Mondavi family that created Opus One. More recently, Philippe himself played a key role in the creation of the families compelling new portfolio of Champagnes known as Champagne Barons de Rothschild.
During our lunch, Philippe led an incisive commentary about where bloggers fit in after what’s been described as the thirty year Robert Parker monologue. Camille, Julien and Philippe were each genuinely curious to hear our individual perspective on how blogging and social media have shifted the influence from just a few publications to the more fragmented system where bloggers have cultivated their own voices and wield their own influence – one that’s arguably more effectively reaching the next generation of wine drinkers: millennials.
The conversation has moved, and the Rothschild’s have taken notice. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that they aren’t resting on their sterling reputation and rich history. In a region so steeped in tradition, Mouton has always been a vanguard – always seemingly one step ahead of the competition. A large part of its history has been defined by innovation, a path initially forged by Baron Philippe de Rothschild before our hosts took the helm.
It would be a mistake not to appreciate the monumental obstacles overcame by a young Baron Phillippe de Rothschild shortly after arriving at his family’s estate in Bordeaux. Due to his tireless efforts, he managed to simultaneously elevate Mouton’s wine quality while revolutionizing the established order of Bordeaux.
At a time when the broker and merchant families held the majority of power, Baron Philippe decided that he would bottle the estates entire production at the château to ensure its quality would never be compromised by a third party. He then corralled a faction of his colleagues, successfully convincing them to follow suit.
The result of these actions would send shock-waves throughout Bordeaux, completely upending the status quo and forever shifting the balance of power. Baron Philippe had essentially declared independence from the merchants.
He was also not content with a standard label for his prized Mouton, so he drew on his profound love of the arts and commissioned artist Jacques Carlu to design a label that was a play on Mouton’s logo: the ram (Baron Philippe was an Aries). It debuted with Mouton’s first vintage, 1924, and would adorn each bottle produced until 1945 – when subsequent vintages received a reproduction of a piece of original artwork commissioned specifically for that vintage of Mouton.
Baron Philippe’s controversial labels managed to raise more than a few eyebrows, but simultaneously became a powerful marketing tool, attracting world-wide attention for Mouton Rothschild’s wine – which, as of 1973, was officially classified as a first-growth, or Premier Cru Classé.
Before then, as a result of Baron Philippe’s successes in quality and marketing, Mouton was already fetching the prices of its neighboring first-growths. But Baron Philippe would not be satisfied until Mouton was classified where he believed it belonged, and to this day, he remains the only person ever to have successfully lobbied the Ministry of Agriculture to amend the 1855 Medoc classification. He commemorated this significant milestone with the following motto:
Premier je suis
Second je fus
Mouton ne change
First I am
Second I was
Mouton does not change
While savoring the absolutely sublime 2005 Mouton Rothschild I had the opportunity to witness the humility and brilliant leadership of todays leaders of this great house firsthand. It wasn’t long before I was struck with the realization that Mouton has always been first, and innovation is simply in its DNA.