Since 1853 this Pauillac property has been in the hands of the Rothschilds, beginning with Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild (of the famous English banking family), who bought it as Château Brane-Mouton but changed the name so he could serve his own wine to his prestigious guests. Prior to this, the property's history dates back to the 18th century, during which time it was owned by the winemaking Ségur family, including the famous Count of Ségur, who was known fondly as 'Prince of the Vines'.
In 1922 Baron Nathaniel's great-grandson, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, took over, marking the beginning of 65 years in charge. During this time he oversaw many of the property's key developments, including overseeing the building of a 100-metre-long barrel hall, launching his own eponymous wine business in 1933, and, in 1945, beginning the tradition of commissioning a different contemporary artist to design the label for each new vintage of Mouton . The 'gallery' includes Jean Cocteau (1947), Georges Braque (1955), Salvador Dali (1958), Henry Moore (1964), Andy Warhol (1965) Marc Chagall (1970), HRH The Prince of Wales (1994) and Lucien Freud (1996).
Baron Philippe also expanded the family's portfolio, purchasing Clerc Milon and Armhailac in the 1970s and 1980s and, in 1979, collaborating with Californian legend Robert Mondavi to launch Opus One, an American wine made with Bordeaux flair.
Given the tablet of stone that is the 1857 Classification of the Médoc, perhaps the most momentous of his achievements, however, was his 50-year campaign to reclassify MoutonRothschild as a first growth. Never content with deuxième cru, which had resulted in the motto Premier ne puis, Second ne daigne Mouton suis ('I can't be First, I won't be Second, I am Mouton'), he became the only proprietor ever to have overturned the status quo when in 1973 Mouton took its rightful place amongs the Premiers Crus. That vintage sported a hommage to the late Pablo Picasso, and the motto was subtly adjusted to Premier je suis Second je fus Mouton ne change ('I am First, I was Second, I'm still Mouton'!).
On his death in 1988, his only child, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, inherited the estate, a responsibility she carried with verve before her death in 2014. Under her leadership a second wine, Le Petit Mouton, was introduced in 1993, and the company further expanded to Chile In 1997, releasing the Almaviva range in partnership with Concha Y Toro. Baroness Philippine de Rothschild died in 2014 and the estate is now run by her 3 children, Camille, Philippe and Julien. Philippe is the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA.
The 84 hectares of vines have an impressive average age of 44 years, and are planted on gentle hills thought to be responsible for the estate's name, as motte and mothon are old French words meaning 'rise' or 'mound'. Unsurprisingly, Mouton Rothschild vineyards have an outstanding terroir: deep, well-draining gravel soils, excellent sun exposure, and the moderating influence of both the Atlantic ocean and the Gironde estuary.
Grapes are picked and sorted by hand with the greatest attention to detail. They are then transferred to vats – the majority of which are oak, but around a third of which are stainless steel – using just gravity to ensure the grapes don't suffer from any unnecessary handling or pressure.
The blend is typically around 80% cabernet sauvignon, 16% merlot, 3% cabernet franc and 1% petit verdot. It spends up to 20 months maturing in new oak barrels.