Baron Philippe de Rothschild was a man of many fascinating colors. His ability to strike a balance in every facet of his life eludes researchers. Born George Phillipe de Rothschild in 1902, Phillipe was the great-grandson of Baron Nathaniel and the youngest son of Baron Henri.
Coming from a family that had investments in real estate, banking/financial services, mining, energy, agriculture, and winemaking, it is understandable that Baron Philippe turned out to be a multifaceted figure. He was a screenwriter and playwright, a film producer, a poet, a Grand Prix racer, and a winegrower whose name resonates around the world.
George Phillipe was born in Paris from the union of Henri de Rothschild and Mathilde Sophie Henriette von Weissweiller. He was 12 years old when the first world war broke out, and his parents sent him to the family’s vineyard in Pauillac for safety. During his stay at Médoc, he acquired an interest in the wine business, an enterprise that had been in the family since the mid-1800s.
Baron Philippe at Chateau Mouton Rothschild
Baron Philippe de Rothschild arrived at Chateau Mouton Rothschild in 1922. Not long after his father passed away, leaving the winery in his charge. While at the helm, he made decisions that not only positioned the Chateau as a standard for Bordeaux merchants but also expanded the size of operations and activities of the family business. He ended the Chateau’s tradition of delivering wines in barrels and instead introduced bottling.
During his sixty-year reign, he invested in modernizing the estate’s operations — a task that was particularly difficult at the time because Bordeaux wines were struggling to gain the world’s attention. He succeeded in his quest, earning him the famous accolade “a man of culture and action.”
He had the support of his wife, Pauline Fairfax Potter, a prolific American fashion designer, whom he married in 1954 after the disappearance of his first wife in a concentration camp in Ravensbruck. She was the lead fashion designer at Hattie Carnegie. She used her artistic talent to give the estate’s storage building a facelift and transformed it into an opulent home.
Phillipe de Rothschild and Art
Together, Phillipe and Pauline established a private wine art museum. The museum prides itself as home to some of the world’s rare objects and art collections, including Picasso’s artwork. Besides Jean Carlu, Philippe de Rothschild also lined up other renowned artists and sculptors to design the Rothschild Mouton’s label.
Notable names on the list included Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Leonor Fini, George Braque, Jacques Villon, Joan Miro, and Salvador Dali, among several others. The famous artists featured on Rothschild’s labels boosted the vineyard’s image and later formed a collection of artworks to be put on display at his private museum.
This goes a long way to demonstrate his keen interest in art. Between 1924 and 1931, Baron Philippe de Rothschild stood as director of Theater Pigalle. In 1934, he shocked the world with his first masterpiece as a producer — Lac aux Dames.
Baron Philippe was a brilliant writer, and his wealth of words came to the fore in his autobiography titled Vivre la Vigne. His stellar translations of literary works, including Poems élisabethains (a collection of poems), is a testimony to his writing talent — and the recognition from the French Academy sealed his position as a world-class “wordsmith.”
Baron Philippe de Rothschild : Mouton Cadet and Premier Cru
Despite his racing and film production interests, Phillipe de Rothschild didn’t drift from wine. He maintained high standards and ensured that only superior quality wines came out of Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Phillipe once refused to sell a particular year’s vintage because he believed the harvest didn’t meet the standard of the vineyard and, as such, would not be sold under the Rothschild Chateau label.
In 1932, Baron Philippe de Rothschild unveiled a low-cost Bordeaux wine called “Mouton Cadet.” this vintage was an enormous success — so much so that he had to source grapes from other vineyards in Bordeaux to satisfy the high demand. Interestingly, the Mouton Cadet made it to the list of the best red wines in the world.
Thanks to his visionary perspective, Baron Philippe expanded the Rothschild estate in virtually every area of operation, including the acquisition of Chateau d’Armaiihac. 1973 was a historic date for the Rothschild Chateau as it became classified as first growth. Having achieved his lifelong goal of attaining Premier Cru status and dealing with the damage done to the Mouton by the German army, Baron Philippe de Rothschild sought other adventures and opportunities outside France. This was how he crossed paths with the renowned American winemaker, Robert Mondavi and entered into a joint venture that birthed Opus One Winery in Napa Valley.
On this day in history
January 20th, 1988 — Baron Philippe de Rothschild died at 85. Upon his death, his daughter, who was also a successful theater actress, took over the company.
July 6th, 1953 — Michael Silacci, the winemaker at Opus One Winery, was born on this day. Opus One Winery opened in 1978 following a joint venture between Robert Mondavi and Baron Phillipe de Rothschild (of Chateau Mouton Rothschild).