Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Lafite
It was in 1853 that the long association with great wine began. In 1853 Nathaniel de Rothschild (1812-1870) purchased Château Brane Mouton in the Medoc district of Bordeaux and renamed it Château Mouton Rothschild.
Not to be outdone by his son-in-law, in 1868, Baron James de Rothschild (1792-1868) secured the neighbouring Château Lafite, one of the four great premier cru estates of France. It was the ultimate statement of Frenchness for James, born 76 years before in the Frankfurt ghetto. Having achieved it, he died within weeks. After the Second World War, Baron Elie de Rothschild (1917-2007) led a programme to restore the vineyard. From 1974 until 2018, Château Lafite was under the direction of Baron Eric de Rothschild who took a keener look at Lafite and its commercial possibilities. The result was a reorganised winemaking group, operating as Domaines Barons de Rothschild, under the control of Lafite. In South America, Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild took the bold step in 1988 of acquiring a 2000 hectares estate, Vina los Vascos, in the Mount Caneten Valley close to the Chilean coast. This venture was followed up in 2001 by the announcement of a joint venture with Nicolas Catena, creator of a flagship winery in Mendoza, to produce a Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec blend near Godoy Cruz in Mendoza from grapes sourced from several Catena vineyards. In April 2018, Baron Eric's daughter, Saskia de Rothschild became the youngest person to lead a first growth Bordeaux estate, also becoming the first female chairwoman of Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), the extended family's global wine business.
A friendly rivalry has always been in the air between these two estates. In the 1920s Philippe de Rothschild (1902-1988), great-grandson of Nathaniel, took on the management of Mouton and brought a new vigour to it with an imaginative style of innovation, introducing the tradition of wine labels painted by great artists. In 1973, it joined Lafite as a premier cru, two of the world’s finest wines side by side on the slopes of Pauillac. From 1988 until her death in 2014, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild (1933-2014) presided over Château Mouton.
While the Rothschild estates in Bordeaux continue to flourish and develop, they have at the same time turned to the opportunities offered by the newer wine-growing regions of the world. Between them, they have developed ventures in other parts of France, in Portugal, California, South America and China, often in partnership with long-established and widely respected vignerons.
Today, the premiers crus stand as enduring peaks of perfection while new worlds offer new styles and new chapters in the story of Rothschild and wine.
The Israeli wine industry
Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) was known as 'The Benefactor', for his support for Jewish colonists in Palestine, overseeing dozens of new colonies. Rishon le Zion (the First in Zion) was followed by others bearing the names of his parents.
In 1882 Edmond established the Israeli wine industry with two of Carmel's wineries, one in Rishon le Zion and the other in Zichron-Jacob, with vine cuttings from Kashmir. By the early 1890s there were 2,200 hectares under vine producing the equivalent of 20 million bottles a year. For marketing purposes, in 1896 the name Carmel was adopted to represent the vineyards. The project cost Edmond millions as it was not really financially viable, and he withdrew from personal direction of the Palestine colonies as a whole in 1900, the year in which wine produced at Rishon Le Zion cellars was awarded a gold medal in the Paris exhibition, alongside the 1899 vintages of Lafite and Margaux.
In the early 1900s, Carmel produced sweet Alicante for the kosher market in Poland and South Russia and a crude ordinaire for the Levant - the bottom end of the market. The winery he built was the second largest of its type in the world and was said to be the largest building in the Ottoman Empire.
In 1906 the wineries were handed over to the growers by the Baron, to form the Societe Cooperative Vigneronne des Grandes Caves, known worldwide under the the tradename 'Carmel'. Today, the Rothschild-owned Carmel winery dominates the Israeli wine industry, producing an extensive range of wines and spirits, receiving 70% of the country’s grape production, and accounting for 63% of production and market share.
Baron Edmond de Rothschild, the great-grandson of Baron James, decided, in 1973, to enter into a long established sphere of Rothschild activity by buying a Médoc vineyard. He chose a cru bourgeois, Château Clarke, in Listrac, his target market being those buyers who appreciated good wine but could not afford the best. At the same time he acquired the neighbouring Château Malmaison. In 1977 he added Château Peyre-Lebade, another nearby estate which had fallen into neglect. A programme of renovation and modernisation on all three estates, comprising some 190 hectares of land, rapidly followed. The wines of Château Clarke are regarded as firm, robust and rich in tannin. Full and smooth, they strike the perfect balance between the fruit of the Cabernet and the power of Merlot. In the mid 1980s Baron Edmond, joined forces with Anthonij Rupert as Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons to develop the rundown vineyard of 90 acres which Rupert had acquired in 1984 at Fredericksburg at the foot of the Simonberg Mountains in Cape Province, South Africa. In 1999, Baron Edmond’s son Benjamin bought 100 hectares of land south of Mendoza in the foothills of the Argentinian Andes with a view to planting them with vines. The first wine from this new venture appeared in 2009.
Wine in China
In 2011, Domaines Barons de Rothschild, owner of Château Lafite, in partnership with the Chinese state-owned investment corporation China International Trust and Investment Corporation, began to develop its first Chinese vineyard planted at Penglai, Shandong province, China to recreate Bordeaux-style wine made on Chinese soil.
Not known to many, Penglai is nestled in the heart of the Shandong valley. The area underwent major work by both Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) and the China International Trust and Investment Corporation before it was planted with grape varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Marselan in May 2011. “The Penglai peninsula was chosen some years ago on the basis of climate and geological considerations. The choice was the result of a long study and we strongly believe in the potential of this vineyard,” said Gérard Colin, former director of the estate who oversaw the initial development of the land. Château Lafite Rothschild began building a chateau and developed 25 hectares of grape-planting. At the foundation ceremony for the project, Eric Kohler from Château Lafite Rothschild said that, "Penglai has the potential to produce high-quality wine". It is the only coastal wine-producing area in Asia.
This project was Domaines Barons de Rothschild’s very first viticulture experience in China, and its first 2013 Chinese vintage was “experimental” and Domaines Barons de Rothschild estimated it would take at least another three harvests to refine it for a domestic market. Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) expects to reach perfect maturation for its 2016. The project is expected to produce 120,000 bottles of wine each year.