The famous vineyard is located in the north of the commune of Pauillac in the area of the same name in the Médoc (Haut-Médoc, Bordeaux). Directly 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 - one made of gold hangs in the entrance hall of the château. However, the name is actually derived from "Mothon", which means "hill" or "elevation". The origin of the estate is a parcel 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 wine estates Château Latour, Château Lafite-Rothschild and Château Mouton-Rothschild. The grandson Nicolas-Alexandre de Ségur (1697-1755) drew the final line between the parts of Lafite and the neighbouring Mouton, which are fundamentally different in terms of terroir and thus also in wine style.
Around 1725, the Mouton part was sold to Baron Joseph de Brane and named "Château Brane-Mouton". It remained in the possession of this family until 1830, when it was sold to the Parisian banker Isaac Thuriet for 1.124 million francs (some sources, however, mention 1825 and the banker is also given in the spelling Thuret). The latter then sold the estate, which at the time comprised 35 hectares of vineyards, to Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild (1812-1870) of the English branch of this great family on 11 May 1853. 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 a few barns and halls, a Château did not yet exist. In the Bordeaux classification of 1855, the estate "only" received the second rank "Deuxième Cru Classé". However, the title "Premier des Seconds" (First of the Second) was added as a "consolation prize", so to speak. Nathaniel was succeeded by his son James (1844-1881), who began building a stately home. It was only finished by his widow Thérèse. James Rothschild was followed by his son Henri (1872-1947), but he was less interested in wine than in art. The estate became rather run down in his time, to which mismanagement and dishonest activities by employees also contributed. His son Philippe de Rothschild (1902-1988) had spent some time on the estate as a youth during the First World War and took a liking to country life. He drew his father's attention to the grievances and, to his delight, was put in charge of the estate.
Philippe de Rothschild took over responsibility for the estate in 1922 at the age of twenty. He first had to painstakingly acquire the necessary knowledge and began to reorganise the business. In 1925, the old barrel cellar collapsed and 90% of the harvest was lost. Within three years, a new chai was built, which is still considered one of the finest in Bordeaux. From the 1924 vintage (carried out in 1927), the Baron introduced complete self-bottling of his wines. This producer bott ling was documented on the label by "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 wines himself, Philippe wanted to ensure the origin of the wines and exclude counterfeits and pantschereien, which were not uncommon at the time. Naturally, he incurred the displeasure of the wine merchants. 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 the famous Château d'Yquem finally joined in 1929. The poor vintages of 1930 to 1932 gave birth to the Baron's 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, the estate (like Lafite-Rothschild) was annexed by the pro-German Vichy government from 1942 and run by a German "wine guide".
Very early on, the Baron was preoccupied with the idea of having his estate upgraded to "Premier Cru Classé". Officially, he began this struggle after the Second World War. The decisive occasion was the 1953 threat of expulsion from the "Association of Five" (the then four Premiers Crus and Mouton) 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" (First I must not be, second I may not be; Mouton I am). From the beginning, these efforts were not only not supported by the owners of Château Lafite-Rothschild, but vehemently opposed.
With his famous cellar master Raoul Blondin, who created a total of 60 Mouton vintages, as well as his legendary administrator Édouard Marjary, the Baron fought for 20 years to have the wine recognised as a First Growth. The excellent quality of the wine was never disputed, but officials feared the unforeseeable consequences of changing the immutable law of Bordeaux classification in 1855 with further attempts by other châteaux. It was not until 1973 that Philippe de Rothschild was finally successful and the new motto was now: "Premier je suis, second je fus, Mouton ne change" (First I am, second I was, Mouton does not change) .
The 1945 vintage, considered the wine of the century, enjoys a legendary reputation. The label bears the patriotic text "1945 - Année de la Victoire" (Year of Victory) with the sign "V" for "Victory" created by Winston Churchill (1874-1965) during the Second World War. There are still small stocks of this vintage. A new record was set at the auction of two original cases of twelve bottles each in September 2006 in Beverly Hills (California) by Christie's auction house. The crates reached a price of US$290,000, giving a price of over $24,000 per bottle. In March 2007, a Jeroboam of this vintage (6 normal bottles) paid US$ 310,700. In both cases, the bid was accepted by an anonymous bidder. The absolute record, however, was set in 1997 at Christie's in London with $ 114,614 for one bottle. It is worth mentioning that there was already some fraud with unnumbered bottles in the 1945 vintage.
The label has been created annually by a contemporary artist since the 1945 vintage. The first was the painter Philippe Jullian, followed by those listed, among others. The artists receive a few cases of the vintage in question as their fee. Incidentally, a label with the ram's head was already created by the poster artist Jean Carlu (1900-1997) for the 1924 vintage. The label of the 1993 vintage shows a childlike nymph figure by the painter Balthus (1908-2001). In the USA, this was understood as paedophilia. Therefore, the wine was delivered in the USA without the nymph, but allegedly with a wine of inferior quality. 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 tribute to the founder on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the winery. As another exception, Queen Elizabeth II was commemorated in 1977 (for other vintages, see artist's label; all image rights ©tokyofoodcast @Flickr.com).
The vineyards cover 80 hectares of vines, 76 of which are planted with red wine varieties and 4 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 gravel layer with a 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 blackcurrant, with the tannin more masked than in 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 part in the legendary Paris Wine Tasting in 1976 and came second.
Among the Premiers, Mouton is considered to be the wine with the greatest difference in quality between good and less good years. It is one of the most expensive wines in the world, which is especially true for older vintages. It was not until 1994 that the second wine "Le Petit Mouton de Château Mouton Rothschild" was introduced. The first attempt had already been made in 1993, when it was still called "Second Vin de Mouton-Rothschild". Since 1991, the white wine "Aile d'Argent" has been produced under the AC Bordeaux. This wine matures for one year in 50% new oak barrels. The empire was led 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 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 holdings as well as the entire family history in detail under the keyword Rothschild.
Mayer Amschel Rothschild: By Elbert Hubbard, Public domain, Link
James de Rothschild: From Elbert Hubbard, Public domain, Link
Nathaniel de Rothschild: From Maull & Polyblank, Public domain, Link
Philippe de Rothschild: From Ron Zimmerman - Rothschild, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Image Barrique cellar: By MPW57 - Own work, Public domain, Link