Château Mouton Rothschild
Médoc and Pauillac, Left-bank, Bordeaux
Bearing the stamp of his constant personal commitment, spirit of independence and visionary genius, the long reign (1922-1988) of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, pwas marked by a series of key decisions, some of which would revolutionise the world of wine.
In 1924, Baron Philippe decided that all the wine should be bottled at the château, asserting the role and responsibility of the owners of top growths in the face of the all-powerful Bordeaux wine trade.
This decision, soon taken up by others, meant that storage space at the château had to be increased. The spectacular Grand Chai (Great Barrel Hall) at Mouton, designed by the architect Charles Siclis, was built in 1926.
In the same Médoc spirit, in 1933 Baron Philippe acquired a small wine-trading business in Pauillac, destined for a flourishing future under the name by which it is now known, Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA. Among other wines, the company would produce and market Mouton Cadet, created in 1930 and now the world’s leading Bordeaux AOC brand.
Later, the family extended its holdings around Mouton with the acquisition of two classified growths in the revered Pauillac vineyard: Château Mouton d’Armailhacq in 1933, renamed Château d’Armailhac in 1989, and Château Clerc Milon in 1970.
Baron Philippe also made a point of forging strong links between Mouton and the arts. Each year from 1945, the label for the vintage was illustrated with the reproduction of an original artwork specially created for Mouton by a contemporary artist. In 1962, the château itself was transformed into one of the Bordeaux region’s leading tourist attractions with the inauguration of the Museum of Wine in Art.
For twenty years, Baron Philippe fought to enhance the image of Mouton Rothschild and secure its elevation to First Growth status. He finally triumphed in 1973, when Mouton officially joined an elite to which it had belonged de facto for many years, following a decree signed by Jacques Chirac, then Minister of Agriculture.
On Baron Philippe‘s death in 1988, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, his only child, inherited not only a treasure, shared with her three children Camille, Philippe and Julien, but also a heavy responsibility. A well-known actress, she ended her stage career in order to continue her father’s work, while resolutely bringing Mouton and the family company, Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, into the 21st century.
Château Mouton Rothschild spans 90 hectares (222 acres) of vines to the north-west of Bordeaux, on the edge of the Médoc peninsula, itself situated, as its name indicates, in medio aquae, amid the waters: those of the Gironde estuary to the east and of the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The Médoc vineyard, which dates back to Roman times, now covers around 16,500 hectares (41,000 acres). The vines are planted on a narrow strip of land 80 km long and 5 to 10 km wide, close to the river, which irrigates the soil in depth and moderates differences in temperature. Bordering the northern limit of the Landes forest, the Médoc benefits from the mildness of the ocean climate while also being protected from its excesses.
Made up of gravel – stones and pebbles which retain the heat of the sun – mingled with sand and some clay, the Médoc soil is poor and unsuitable for growing anything other than vines, which produce the finest wines in the world. The thin and poor, gravelly soil extends down several metres over a clay-limestone base. The vines give elegant, powerful, richly tannic and long-lived wines.
The topography consists of a series of hillocks, generally less than 40m high, separated by lower-lying land. Their gentle slopes favour natural drainage and exposure to sunlight. The best vines often grow on these hillocks, which give their name to certain famous châteaux: Mouton doubtless comes not from the animal but from “motte” or “mothon”, an old French word meaning a rise or mound, while Lafite comes from “faîte”, or ridge, and Cos d’Estournel from “côte”, or slope.
As in every great winegrowing region, the vagaries of geology and microclimate produce wines of different styles and quality, some of which have to content themselves with generic appellations: Médoc, Haut-Médoc or Bordeaux. The elite are to be found within a handful of prestigious local appellations such as Margaux, Saint-Julien and Saint-Estèphe. One of the most famous is certainly Pauillac, where the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, first planted there in the early 19th century, reaches its finest expression. The 1,200 or so hectares (3,000 acres) of the Pauillac appellation include three of the five “Premiers Crus Classés du Médoc et de Graves” (Médoc and Graves First Growths), Lafite, Latour and Mouton. That glorious trio is surrounded by 15 of the 60 Médoc estates to feature in the famous 1855 classification.