The wine queen

Updated: Aug 31 2014, 08:08am hrs
SHE WAS the closest thing to royalty in the world of wine-making. When Baroness Philippine de Rothschild passed away last week, it marked the end of a true-life legend, a former actress, who took over the familys wine business in Bordeaux and made it even more successful. She was heir to one of the top-ranked Bordeaux vineyards started by her father, Baron Phillipe Rothschild, in Pauillac, home to some of the worlds most famous and expensive wines. When her father died in 1988, she took over the running of her family estates. As chairwoman of the company, she steered both Mouton and the other properties to new qualitative heights and was one of Bordeauxs most prominent figures. She also played a leading role at Opus One, the Napa Valley winery her father had started with another legendary vintner, Robert Mondavi.

Tributes have been pouring in from across the wine world, tracing her amazing career. Philippine Mathilde Camille de Rothschild was born in Paris. Her first love was acting. She had a fairly successful acting career, but started taking an interest in the family wine business a few years before her father died, and showed she had the brains and knowledge to take the business to even greater heights. At the time of her fathers death, the company sold 1.3 million cases of wine a year. By 2000, sales had almost doubled to 2.1 million cases worth around $155 million (approximately $219 million now). Her wine holdings included Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau dArmailhac, Chateau Clerc Milon, Domaine de Lambert, Baron Arques, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Mouton Cadet, Opus One and Vina Almaviva (from Chile). It established her as a monumental figure in Bordeaux and the entire wine industry.

Her father had begun a tradition in 1945 of commissioning prominent artists like Salvador Dali, Picasso and Andy Warhol to design the chateaus label every year. His daughter did the same. British artist Lucian Freud was commissioned to create the label for the 2006 edition of Chateau Mouton Rothschilda wine that fetched thousands of dollars per bottle. She modernised and diversified her estates production, and formed a partnership in Chile to create Almaviva wines. She introduced a second wine to Moutons production, Le Petit Mouton, in the early 1990s. She also purchased a 250-acre estate in Limoux, in Frances Languedoc region, and renamed it Domaine de Baronarques. Her biggest contribution was to emphasise more purity rather than brute power in the wine. Thanks to those shifts, Mouton has established itself as one of the worlds most expensive wines. Prices for top vintages of the past two decades range between $420 and $1,410 a bottle, according to the Liv-ex Web-based wine exchange in London. The cost of rarer, more historic wines from the chateau is much higher. At a Christies international sale in Hong Kong in 2010, 60 bottles of Mouton Rothschild from 1945 to 2005 fetched $123,300, or just over $2,000 a bottle.