The Vine of Beauty: The Rothschild Family's Wine Heritage

The Rothschild family has achieved exalted status in winemaking over the past couple of centuries. Trying to decide on the No.1 vintage from their magnificent cellars may take a lot longer...

 The Vine of Beauty: The Rothschild Family's Wine Heritage

As a self-employed oenophile, I admit I do my fair share of work from bed. It turns out I am in great company, as the late Baron Philippe de Rothschild agreed to a collaboration with Robert Mondavi from bed in 1978. It was a collaboration that brought about Opus One, one of the most highly regarded wines from Napa Valley. 

When it comes to wine and the Rothschild family, I am often surprised by how much they own. Across the three branches of the Rothschild family, there are 26 estates and 132 different wines. As I was writing this, VinePair reported that, “Domaines Barons de Rothschild Lafite (DBR Lafite), owner of the prestige, first-growth Bordeaux estate Château Lafite Rothschild, has acquired chablis producer Domaine William Fèvre for an undisclosed sum”. It is their first foray into burgundy, and an exciting one, for William Fèvre produce some cracking chardonnay. While it is hard to keep up, the name runs deep when it comes to bordeaux. I think it is fairly common knowledge that they are the family behind the brilliance of Château Mouton, which Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild purchased in 1853. The beady-eyed among you may have spotted the 2000 vintage on the Beckhams’ dinner table at Christmas. These wines became transcendent when, in 1945, the Rothschilds decided to commission a contemporary artist to create the label each year, making them unique and perhaps even more collectable. The latest release, from 2021, features artwork by the Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota entitled ‘Universe of Mouton’. 

Baron Philippe de Rothschild in his office in Paris in1929.Hewasamanof letters, a film producer, a wine grower and a racecar champion.
Baron de Rothschild with one of the workers on the vineyard in 1948.

As for any luxury brand that has enormous global success, counterfeits are rife. James de Roany, the former president of the CNCCEF Wine & Spirits commission, told Wine Spectator, “For every real bottle of French wine in China, there is at least one counterfeit bottle of French wine, and the situation is only getting worse”. 


  • To completely mitigate the risk, you would buy direct from the producer
  • Only buy from merchants that have no history of selling fakes. There are plenty of highly regarded merchants who would love to take you under their wing. Berry Bros. & Rudd is a good example
  • Make sure the paperwork makes sense. Wine that is imported to the U.K. will have a paper trail to demonstrate authenticity
  • If it is too good to be true, it probably is! 

Château Lafite was purchased in 1868, this time by Baron James de Rothschild. These wines continue to be some of the most sought- after in the world, and, doubtless due to the success of Mouton, Baron Philippe de Rothschild bought the neighbouring estates in Pauillac, Château Clerc Milon and Château d’Armailhac. In terms of pricing, you can buy a case of 2000 Château Clerc Milon for £1,800 in bond at Berry Bros. & Rudd. You are looking at around £2,400 for a single bottle of Château Mouton of the same vintage. 

What else is on the Rothschild roster? Well, a third branch of the family, Baron Edmond de Rothschild, purchased Château Clarke in the 1970s and today produces wine in Listrac-Médoc, Puisseguin Saint-Émilion, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa. Their new addition to the portfolio is a rosé from Provence in collaboration with Château Roubine. Finally, there is Champagne Barons de Rothschild, a joint venture between the different Rothschild families. 

Maurice Edmond Karl de Rothschild (1881-1957), French art collector, vineyard owner, financier and politician, photographed in June 1914.

In the early 1920s, aged 21, Baron Philippe de Rothschild inherited Mouton as a young man and visited for the first time. It is said that he immediately fell in love with the property, the land and the people, and set about making Mouton an exceptional wine. He innovated and pushed boundaries: for example, by becoming the first château in Bordeaux to bottle its own wine at the château, protecting the quality assurance of the wine. It seems strange to think of this as controversial, as it wasn’t long before it became the preferred method for top estates. Today it is common practice and part of the marketing story. In 1952, Baron Philippe de Rothschild would begin a lengthy battle fighting for Château Mouton Rothschild to be promoted to 1855 First Growth. It wasn’t until June 23, 1973 that he was successful, and Mouton joined Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Haut-Brion and Latour as First Growth of Bordeaux. 

In 1975 Baron Eric inherited Château Lafite Rothschild, and for the following 40 years improved Lafite’s standing. Today, Philippe Sereys de Rothschild runs Château Mouton Rothschild with his brother and sister, and next door, at Château Lafite Rothschild, Saskia de Rothschild undertakes a quiet revolution of returning the vineyards to traditional (pre-1945) methods of farming regeneratively. 

Baron James de Rothschild and his wife, Yvette Choquet, at a Paris restaurant after their wedding ceremony in October 1966.
Nadine de Rothschild at the Cannes film festival, 1958.
Corice Canton, Armand Fernandez, Anjelica Huston and Baroness Phillipine de Rothschild at a party in Washington to celebrate the display of Château Mouton Rothschild wine labels at the Corcoran Gallery, 1984.
Nadine de Rothschild, the wife of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, in the vineyards at Château Clarke. Baron Edmond de Rothschild bought the long-forgotten Château Clarke in 1973, producing the first bottled vintage in 1978.
The Château Mouton Rothschild estate produces a first classified vintage from the Medoc vineyard.
A bottle of Château Mouton Rothschild wine, vintage 2015, the label of which was illustrated by the German painter Gerhard Richter.
Christian Wolff and Heinz Winkler with a magnum of 1990 Mouton Rothschild.
Eric de Rothschild in the cellar of Château Lafite-Rothschild.

A favourite of mine, perhaps because it is more attainable and approachable, is a wine from the Languedoc, Domaine de Baronarques, which is owned by Camille Sereys de Rothschild, Philippe Sereys de Rothschild and Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild. The domaine was acquired in 1998, and it is the latest property to join the family’s illustrious portfolio. I tried this wine on a trip to Languedoc, and I was blown away by the outstanding quality. Languedoc is an interesting region. It has always been seen as ‘affordable’ because of the exceptional conditions for growing grapes, which means they can often produce larger quantities than elsewhere. A family with the gravitas of the Rothschilds making wine in Languedoc can do only great things for the region as a whole. They produce a premium red wine from a blend of bordeaux grapes, including merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, and Mediterranean grapes including syrah and malbec, sometimes known as ‘cot’ in Languedoc. The white wine is all made from chardonnay. 

It is the bordeaux varietals that the Rothschilds know best, whether in Bordeaux itself or further afield in Napa Valley, with the Opus One partnership with Constellation Brands, formerly Robert Mondavi. Cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot have served them well. With so much success, it is almost impossible to pick out one outstanding vintage. Sophie Hedley, from Waddesdon Manor, the home of Lord Rothschilds’ wine cellar, says: “For best vintages, there are so many to list: 1945 was an exceptional year in many ways, and produced one of the great bordeaux vintages, as did 1946. The 1959 is still one of the greatest ever, and today it’s as fresh and youthful as a wine 40 years younger. The 1961 and 1982 are among collectors’ favourites. 1986 and 1996 are both still young vintages but have great finesse and power. More recently, 2020 produced something quite unique, as did 2022.” 

The cellar at Waddesdon Manor, in Buckinghamshire, has vintages of Lafite and Mouton going back to the 1870s, and boasts the largest private collection of these wines outside of their respective châteaux. In the commercial cellars at Goedhuis-Waddesdon (a merger that was finalised in November 2023), they have vintages going back to 1986.

A bottle of Château Mouton Rothschild from 1982.
Baron Edmond de Rothschild in his wine cellar at Château Lafite Rothschild in 1991.

As historical and traditional as all this sounds, the Rothschilds are very much with the times when it comes to sustainable wine practices. Like many vineyards, and indeed farms, during the 20th century modern agricultural practices were introduced to their businesses and their viticulture. The spraying of crops increased, hedgerows were removed to make parcels of land larger, and some techniques in the winery were modernised. Yet as with farming in the U.K., over the past 10 years there has been a strong movement back to 19th-century farming techniques, with hedgerows reintroduced to increase biodiversity, trees planted in the vineyard to add shade, and different types of cover crop planted to increase diverse wildlife and biodiversity in the vineyard. “In a way, as the 21st century develops, many châteaux are simply returning to techniques used 100 years ago,” Hedley says. “This may result in smaller crops, but it’s certainly the right way for a vineyard to be managed for the environment.” 

An oak barrel produced by the Tonnellerie des Domaines Barons de Rothschild at Château Lafite in Bordeaux is used to age wine from a 2017 harvest in Mendoza city, Argentina, in 2019.

You may notice the subtle coat of arms on the Rothschild wine bottles, which show they are from the same family. Look out for the five arrows, pointing in different directions, often found on the foil on the neck or engraved into the glass. The symbolism of this coat of arms is rather lovely. In the 18th century, Amschel Rothschild sent his five sons out of the Frankfurt ghetto to establish banks in the main cities of Europe. He couldn’t have dreamt of the success of his sons in the financial world, nor that the family would become so well regarded in the wine world. 


If you would like to experience some of the Rothschilds’ wines, Waddesdon Manor is open to the public and offers informal tastings in the shop and cellars.