The famous winery is located in the north of the commune of Pauillac in the area of the same name in the Médoc (Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux). Adjacent to it is Château Lafite-Rothschild. Mouton is the French word for "sheep" (ram) and a ram's head is also the logo of the house - a gold one hangs in the entrance hall of the Châteaux. But actually the name is derived from "Mothon", which means "hill" or "elevation". The origin of the estate is a plot of land called "Clos de Mouton" owned by the notary Jacques de Ségur (+1691). This famous noble family owned huge estates, including the predecessors of the three wineries Château Latour, Château Lafite-Rothschild and also Château Mouton-Rothschild. The grandson Nicolas-Alexandre de Ségur (1697-1755) drew the final line between the parts of Lafite and neighbouring Mouton, which differ fundamentally in terms of terroir and thus also in the style of wine
Around 1725, the Mouton part was sold to Baron Joseph de Brane, who named his property "Château Brane-Mouton". It remained in this family until 1830, when it was sold for 1.124 million francs to the Parisian banker Isaac Thuriet (although some sources mention the year 1825 and the banker is also mentioned in the spelling Thuret). The latter then sold the estate, which at that time covered 35 hectares of vineyards, on 11 May 1853 to Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild (1812-1870) of the English branch of this large family. The Baron had moved from London to Paris three years earlier with his wife Charlotte (a cousin) to work in the bank of his father-in-law and uncle Baron James de Rothschild (1792-1868). Baron James then bought Château Lafite 15 years later and added the Rothschild name.
Baron Nathaniel gave his new property the name "Château Mouton-Rothschild". At that time it only consisted of some barns and halls, a Château did not exist yet. In the 1855 Bordeaux Classification, the estate "only" received the second place "Deuxième Cru Classé". However, the title "Premier des Seconds" (first of the second) was added as a "consolation" so to speak. Nathaniel was followed by his son James (1844-1881), who began building a stately home. It was only completed by his widow Thérèse. James Rothschild was followed by his son Henri (1872-1947), who was less interested in wine than in art. The estate was quite run down in its time, with mismanagement and unfair activities of employees contributing to this. His son, Philippe de Rothschild (1902-1988), had spent some time on the estate as a young man during the First World War and had taken a liking to the country life. He drew his father's attention to the abuses and, to his delight, he was entrusted by him with the management.
Philippe de Rothschild took over the responsibility for the winery in 1922 at the age of twenty. He had to work hard to acquire the necessary knowledge and began to restructure the estate. In 1925, the old barrel cellar collapsed and 90% of the harvest of that year was lost. Within three years a new chai was built, which is still considered one of the most beautiful in Bordeaux. From the 1924 vintage (carried out in 1927), the baron introduced the complete self-bottling of his wines. This producer bottling was documented on the label by the designation "Mise en bouteilles au Château", which guaranteed the origin and bottling by the specified winery. Until then, most of the wines had been sold in barrels to trading houses, which then carried out the bottling and labelling.
By bottling the wine himself, Philippe wanted to guarantee its origin and exclude the possibility of forgeries and pancakes, which were not uncommon at the time. Of course, this caused the displeasure of the wine dealers. Philippe had already coordinated this with the other "Premiers Crus", who now also bottled their wines themselves. On the Baron's initiative, the "Association des Premier Crus" was founded, which was finally joined by the famous Château d'Yquem in 1929. Due to the poor vintages from 1930 to 1932, the Baron gave birth to the idea of a simple wine and the worldwide triumphal procession of the Mouton Cadet brand, which is still successful today, began. During the Second World War, from 1942 onwards, the winery (like Lafite-Rothschild) was annexed by the pro-German Vichy government and managed by a German "wine guide".
The Baron was very early to consider the idea of upgrading his vineyard to "Premier Cru Classé". Officially he began this fight after the Second World War. The decisive occasion was the threatened expulsion from the "Association of Five" (the then four Premiers Crus and Mouton) in 1953, initiated by Elie Robert de Rothschild (1917-2007), the owner of Château Lafite-Rothschild. Philippe created the famous motto "Premier ne puis, second ne daigne, Mouton suis" (I cannot be first, I cannot be second; Mouton is me). From the very beginning, the owners of Château Lafite-Rothschild not only did not support these efforts, but even vehemently opposed them.
With his famous cellarmaster Raoul Blondin, who created a total of 60 Mouton vintages, and his legendary administrator Édouard Marjary, the Baron fought for 20 years for the recognition of the wine as a first crop. The excellent quality of the wine was never disputed, but the official authorities feared the unforeseeable consequences of a change in the incontrovertible law of the 1855 Bordeaux classification, but it was not until 1973 that the Baron finally succeeded and the new motto was now: "Premier je suis, second je fus, Mouton ne change" (I am first, I was second, Mouton does not change)
The 1945 vintage enjoys a legendary reputation as the wine of the century. The label bears the patriotic text "1945 - Année de la Victoire" (Year of Victory) with the letter "V" for "Victory" created by Winston Churchill (1874-1965) during the Second World War. There are still small collections of this volume. A new record was set at the auction of two original boxes of twelve bottles each in September 2006 in Beverly Hills (California) by the auction house Christie's. The crates reached a price of US$ 290,000, which results in a price of over US$ 24,000 per bottle. In March 2007, a Jeroboam of this vintage (6 normal bottles) was paid US$ 310,700. In both cases the contract was awarded to an anonymous bidder. But the absolute record was set in 1997 in London at Christie's with $ 114,614 for a bottle. It is worth mentioning that there had already been some scams with unnumbered bottles when the 1945 vintage was sold.
The label has been created annually by a contemporary artist since 1945. The first one was the painter Philippe Jullian, followed by the ones mentioned above. The artists receive as a fee some boxes of the respective vintage. The poster artist Jean Carlu (1900-1997) created a label with a ram's head as early as 1924. The label of the 1993 vintage shows a childlike nymph figure by the painter Balthus (1908-2001). In the USA this was understood as pedophilia. Therefore, the wine was delivered in the USA without a nymph, but allegedly with a lower quality wine. As a rare exception, the 2003 vintage does not show an artist's picture, but a photo of Baron Nathaniel de Rotschild and in the background the historic purchase contract of 11 May 1853. This was a homage to the founder on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the winery. As a further exception, the Queen Elizabeth II was commemorated in 1977 (for other vintages see under artist label; all image rights ©tokyofoodcast @Flickr.com).
The vineyards cover 80 hectares of vineyards, 76 hectares of which are planted with red wine varieties and four hectares with white wine varieties. These are Cabernet Sauvignon (80%), Cabernet Franc (10%), Merlot (8%) and Petit Verdot (2%), as well as Sémillon (48%), Sauvignon Blanc (38%) and Muscadelle (14%). The red wine is aged for up to 24 months in 100% new barriques. It owes its unmistakable character to the soil, a layer of gravel with high iron and silicate content. At best it should not be opened before ten years, the shelf life is 40, 50, 60 years and even longer. It has an intense note of blackcurrants, with tannins that cover more than other great Médoc wines. Outstanding vintages are 1945, 1949, 1953, 1959, 1961, 1966, 1970, 1975, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000. The 1970 vintage took second place at the legendary Paris Wine Tasting in 1976.
Among the Premiers, Mouton's wine is considered the one with the greatest quality differences between good and less good years. It is one of the most expensive wines in the world, especially for older vintages. Only in 1994 the second wine "Le Petit Mouton de Château Mouton Rothschild" was introduced. The first attempt had already been made in 1993, this was still called "Second Vin de Mouton-Rothschild". Since 1991 the white wine "Aile d'Argent" has been produced under the AC Bordeaux. This matures one year in 50% new oak barrels. The empire was managed from 1988 onwards by the Baron's daughter, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild (1933-2014) as majority shareholder and chairman of the supervisory board of the public limited company. She was succeeded by Philippe Sereys de Rothschild (*1963). The siblings Camille Sereys de Rothschild (*1961) and Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild (*1971) are co-owners and represented on the Supervisory Board. See the other properties and the entire family history in detail under the keyword Rothschild.