“…the man gaining a reputation wasn’t a Peckham pilgrim at all.”
Mouton Rothschild’s has it’s hand up as a pretty serious story teller. And there is one guy, in particular, who was a bit of a chap.
He’s a pretty cool lad.
Chateau Mouton Rothschild, having just been bought by – yes, you guessed it – a bloody Brit, did not enter into the 1855 Bordeaux Wine Official Classification as a first growth (only four were: Haut Brion, Margaux, Lafite and Latour). This was utterly confusing and thoroughly vexing to all involved there – who saw the lack of inclusion as, frankly, a spot of casual racism over the vintners anglo-jewish heritage. “Bloody racist frogs” they whispered under breath, or out loud (who cares, we’re not on the bloody list anyway). [this might not have happened].
Soon the chateau was in French hands again though and in 1920 a young man was sent out to live with relatives on some vineyard in the middle of nowhere after the outbreak of WWI. The estate was Mouton Rothschild and it had been in his family in the 1850’s. His father and his grandfather had shown little interest in either fast cars or hot women… or the wine estate. However, when a little older Georges Philippe de Rothschild decided he didn’t want to be a playboy racing driver any more either. His fake name was starting to wear thin… people were starting to guess that the man gaining a reputation wasn’t a Peckham pilgrim at all. He’d have to come clean or give it up. So instead of pursuing his career as a racing driver or a screenplay/theatre writer/producer – all things he had done with some success – he began dedicating more and more time to wine.
This Frenchman was, by all accounts, an unusually outstanding gent and a humorous chap all-round. He liked the odd practical joke which occasionally got out of hand. For instance, he decided he was sick of people asking and assuming that Mouton means “mutton” When guests and visitors chuckled and snorted, pointing at all the rams heads on the walls, pissed of their heads on last years vintage, he would smile and nod: ‘Mouton doesn’t mean mutton or sheep, but I am an Aries and that’s our sign so bugger you all – we’ll have the rams’. What seems like hundreds remain on the walls today.
After taking over the chateau Philippe de Rothschild decided upon a few things that wouldn’t just change the future of his own chateau; but also that of wine the world over.
He was keen on making the best wine possible but wasn’t happy at selling it all in barrels to people who’d bottle it as just any random wine. Instead… he decided to complete the operation himself – bottling it at the chateau– and selling it as Mouton Rothschild. It sounds perfectly reasonable now of course – but back then there was no precedent for this. Quickly it was obvious to all the other Chateaus that they’d need to follow suit. It was a choice made by a young, hungry, man that would change the wine world forever. And now he had the bottle; he needed a label – and we all know what he did with that!
Mouton Rothschild and Philippe in particular were lobbying the influential in Bordeaux for years in order to have that peculiar, clearly xenophobic,exclusion reversed. They were so intense and public with their outrage that they made the following motto: I wont give the Latin because you probably couldn’t care less and I can’t remember it off the top of my head believe it or not. The motto was “First, I cannot be. Second, I do not design to be. Mouton I am.”. Hardly inconspicuous.
When the French succumbed and, in 1973, MR was added to the list of first-growths (one of only now five) they of course had to change the motto. They chose: ‘First, I am. Second, I used to be. Mouton does not change.’. Brilliant.
Philippe married twice – the second time to his long-standing mistress. Together they travelled the world collecting artefacts of wine which was eventually placed in a permanent exhibit space between the chai and the barrel room. Another thing we inherit.
He dedicated the rest of his life to continuing the growth of the Chateau Mouton Rothschild name. And fast cars and hot women.
An incredible man with a great story.