“I’ve always looked at the wine business as an opportunity and not an obligation, though I knew [throughout my career] that I’d get closer and closer to it,” says Philippe Serys de Rothschild. “And finally, when my mother passed away, I had to make a choice. I just wanted to be sure that I could add something. I don’t know that I will but hope to over the next 20 years or so.” He is working on it. Rothschild has for the last four years been the CEO of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, the company behind Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Rothschild has come to this job at the family firm (both his brother and sister also work with him) via business school, investment banking, a start-up angel and a spell as chief finance officer at the Italian green energy company Dalkia.
He has his work cut out: keeping up his wine’s reputation. Mouton Rothschild is, after all, one of the most famous wines in the world. It’s a wine name-checked in the writings of John Updike, Agatha Christie, and Roald Dahl. It’s a fine appreciation for Mouton Rothschild wines that allows James Bond to expose the villain in ‘Diamonds Are Forever.’ Even the labels on the bottle are collectible. Its latest batch - a special edition - has been designed by Jeff Koons, Anish Kapoor and three other art heavyweights; all in keeping with a tradition established in 1945 by Rothschild’s grandfather, and namesake. Over the years, labels have been designed by the likes of Dali, Miro, Chagall, Picasso, Warhol, Bacon and a host of others who need only be known by their surnames - ultimately becoming a signature and pull of the Mouton Rothschild brand.
But the real artistry is in the wine itself, in the blending and its provenance, says Rothschild. This expertise is what pushed live wine auctions by Zachys and Sotheby’s to record figures earlier this year, with ex-cellar offerings from Mouton Rothschild and Lafite - also in the Rothschild family - driving sales. “More and more people drink better and better wine - which makes me very happy,” says Rothschild. “But more people are also more sensitive to authenticity, too; they want to know where wines are from, how wines are made, who makes it, and how. We have to get that message across regarding the quality of our wines - that they’re worth it because they taste better because they’re better for your health. They’re cleaner, and we’re always pushing to make it cleaner still.”
Indeed, given his background in environmental business, the company has begun a push towards ever more chemical-free production, with bio-dynamic a possible endpoint. It’s something the super-premium end of the wine business is going to have to address, he argues. “And thanks to my children, my eco-awareness keeps growing,” says Rothschild “Ultimately, my job is not to make an expensive wine but the best wine in what is a very long-term business.”
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Photography by Courtesy of Chateau Mouton Rothschild