It was a party in high style, held at the legendary Château Mouton Rothschild. To attend it, over 600 guests — including 350 international wine journalists — descended on the usually sleepy village of Pauillac, in the heart of the Médoc wine region, north of Bordeaux. They were dressed to the nines.
The opening press dinner of Vinexpo, the biennial international wine fair in Bordeaux, is hosted by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux at a different First Growth château each time. It’s a grand affair. This year’s was a double celebration: In addition to marking the start of the trade fair, at which wines from all over the world are sampled and sold, the historic winery was also launching its new vinification cellar, or cuvier. Designed by architect Bernard Mazières and designer Richard Peduzzi, with the help of the château’s dynamic director, Philippe Dhalluin, the cellar was years in the making.
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“It’s breathtaking! Anything Château Mouton Rothschild does sets a standard for the global wine world,” one Asian wine writer exclaimed admiringly as he took photos of the virtual cellar on his iPad. Inside, the real cellar revealed a restrained design of wood and stainless steel in which the precious grapes can now be transformed more efficiently into wine. It incorporates the most up-to-date vinification tanks and temperature-controlled technologies. Mouton Rothschild is one of the world’s most sought-after wines, with bottles of the iconic red wine going for very high prices: A bottle of the 2010 costs upward of 1,100 euros. Currently, between 200,000 and 300,000 bottles of the top wine and 40,000 bottles of the second wine, Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild, are produced from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes grown in the estate’s perfectly manicured vineyards.
The Mouton Rothschild legacy
Mouton Rothschild has long been a bastion both of winemaking and culture. Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, who hosted the party, is a modern-day arts patron, as was her late father, Baron Philippe. In 1945, he began commissioning a different modern artist each year to design a label for the château’s top wine, Château Mouton Rothschild. The tradition continues to this day, with an extraordinary range of artists who have produced the graphics for the top part of the label that has included Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons and Keith Haring. The labels are so beautiful they have become collectibles in their own right.
The new cellar provides a permanent space for a fascinating exhibition on the history of these labels, with a framed panel dedicated to each work that includes letters and sketches from the artists. This will be an extension to the château’s existing art collection, the Museum of Wine in Art. Here, sculptures, tapestries and paintings from many eras celebrate the importance of wine in each culture. Visits are possible to the château and its exhibitions, by appointment.
The sit-down dinner included a delicious cheese soufflé — quite a catering feat for 600 guests! — and some remarkable wines from the Union’s châteaux. The most spectacular was the 1975 Mouton Rothschild, with its colourful Andy Warhol label, which was served from magnificent Imperial-sized bottles (holding 6 liters each, or the equivalent of 8 standard bottles). The bottles were carried into the dining room to a trumpet fanfare. The wine’s complexity, elegance and freshness are characteristics of the best wines of Bordeaux. It was a fitting way to launch the fair and confirm to the guests who had arrived from all over the world that Bordeaux is still actively at the heart of great wine and of great culture.
Top photo: Mouton Rothschild’s new vinification cellar is reflected in a giant mirror. Credit: Carla Capalbo