by Fred McMillin
for October 13, 2000
Winery of the Week
The English Rothschilds
(Financing by Napoleon)
Baron Philippe de Rothschild (Chateau Mouton-Rothschild) was perhaps the greatest promoter of Bordeaux wines.
His daughter, Philippine,(pictured), appears more than capable of continuing her father's legacy....(Robert Parker, Jr.)
Under Philippine's leadership which started in 1988, the firm has diversified, including production of varietal wines (i.e., named after the dominate grape) from the Languedoc in southeastern France....(Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine)
Let's trace the rise of the Rothschilds (long ago) and the rise of the Languedoc (recent).
There's a French and an English branch of Rothschilds. We're dealing with the English.
June 1815—Nathan Rothschild makes a record killing on the London stock market. He had hired a fast yacht to bring news of what had happened at Waterloo many hours before other traders learned Napoleon had lost!
1853—The next generation enters the wine world when Baron Nathaniel Rothschild buys an Haut-Medoc winery-vineyard, Brane-Mouton. He renames it Mouton-Rothschild. (Mouton means "sheep" in French, and sheep had once grazed on that land.)
1926—Founder Nathaniel's great-grandson Philippe assumes leadership of Mouton-Rothschild.
1988—Philippe passes away, leaving Philippine at the helm of what he has made one of the most respected wineries in the world.
Now to the rise of Languedoc, the arc of French flat land along the Mediterannean between the Pyrenees Mountains and the Rhone River.
"The quality of Languedoc wines is an unmitigated disaster" is the way Jancis Robinson described the situation just 15 years ago. Suprising, since it is France's oldest wine region...the Roman's organized the vineyards over 2,000 years ago... but the emphasis always was on quantity not quality. Left unchecked, vines in the area could produce 10 times the amount of grapes seen in the Medoc.
But A Happy Ending
But now, Master of Wine Clive Coates writes in Wines of France, "Perhaps the single most exciting thing that I have experienced in my trade career has been the enormous improvement in the standard of winemaking in the South of France..."
Money and talent are pouring in, and Philippine is determined to be a leader. My panel is about to taste four Baron Philippe de Rothschild varietal wines from the distict, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. All are 100% of the grape named, and all retail at a modest $11. We'll be reporting on all of them soon. In the meantime, if you want to beat us to the sip, for outlets, contact:
René Laliberti, Caravelle Wine Selections, Phone (860) 409-9119, FAX (860) 409-9272
You recall that when purchased, Mouton-Rothschild was called Brane-Medoc. It was making better wine than a number of its rivals because Baron Hector de Brane (also spelled Branne), along with a neighbor, had introduced a variety that was new to the Medoc. It was called Cabernet Sauvignon!
About the Writer
Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.
This page created October 2000