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After the fall of France, Bordeaux, with its close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean was of enormous value to Berlin, who wanted to avoid sending its submarines through the North Sea. And by 1943, the Kriegsmarine had built a massive U-boat base near the town, giving the German Navy direct access to Allied shipping routes. Of course, in addition to its geo-strategic importance, the region of Bordeaux and its world-famous vineyards also became a prime target for exploitation—especially if a Rothschild owned them.
As the Wehrmacht began occupying the French coast, the Jewish-owned Château Mouton Rothschild would feel the effects of Nazi barbarism perhaps more than any other estate. Converting Mouton into a communications command center, nearly 4,000 pieces of art were stolen from the property while German soldiers regularly used family portraits on the walls for target practice, leaving the home riddled with bullet holes by the time of its liberation.
With its owner, Baron Philippe de Rothschild living in exile, the day-to-day operations of running the château were placed under the command of what the French scornfully called Weinführers—men whose job it was to purchase and ship the best wines back to Germany; there, they would be sold on the international market at a huge profit to help fund Hitler’s war machine. Assessing the entire French wine industry for bottles that could bring in a large infusion of funds, a key area of interest became Bordeaux which included Mouton, a notable second growth.
Fortunately for the Bordelais, their Weinführer stood in stark contrast to the actions of many soldiers in the region. Heinz Bömers, although employed by the Third Reich, had been a wine importer long before the war and was on good terms with many vintners in Bordeaux. “Let us try to continue our business as normally as possible,” he would tell the community at large. And to prove he had their interests at heart, Bömers would do his best to save the most valuable vintages from Nazi pillaging.
One memorable story told in Don and Petie Kladstrup’s book Wine & War involves Château Mouton Rothschild and Hermann Göring. Despite its Jewish ownership, the Field Marshal absolutely loved the wines from Mouton, demanding that numerous cases be shipped to his Carinhall estate. Bömers however despised Göring and instructed French winemakers to fill the bottles with vin ordinare instead. “Mouton is too good for the likes of him,” said Bömers. All these efforts during this difficult time would not go unnoticed by Baron Philippe de Rothschild, who agreed to let the ex-Weinführer represent Mouton in Germany after the war.
With the liberation of Bordeaux in August of 1944, Rothschild came back to his beloved château, vowing to rebuild the empire he helped to create. Despite living in a state of chaos with wires cut and telegraph poles down throughout Pauillac, Mouton’s 1945 harvest proved to be something extraordinary, leading to a vintage that became the envy of all his first-growth competitors.
Château Mouton Rothschild A Premier Cru Classé in 1973, Château Mouton Rothschild, owned by Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, consists of 205 acres of vines near Pauillac, in the Médoc, North West of the city of Bordeaux. This Premier Cru benefits from exceptionally good natural conditions, both in the quality of the soil, the position of its vines and their exposure to the sun. It is regarded today as one of the world's greatest wine.
The name Mouton is said to be derived from the word „Motte“ meaning mound or elevation of the ground. It was bought in 1853 by Philippe de Rothschilds great-grand father it was in a fairly bad shape and when the classification of 1855 was set up it was not deemed to be good enough to be qualified as a first growth but put in first place amongst the second growths. An injustice it took Philippe de Rothschild until 1973 to rectify. 1920s Philippe de Rothschild called together the owners of Haut Brion, Latour, Lafite, Margaux and Yquem to talk about the idea of bottling and marketing their wines on their own.
The first vintage to be bottled exclusivly at the château was the 1924 vintage. To commemorate this, the cubistic painter Carlu was asked to design the label, yet another revolutionary idea in this most conservative of surroundings. The idea of an artist designing the labels was dropped until 1945 when Philippe Jullian was asked to design a label commemorating the victory over nazi Germany. Since then works of such famous artists as Picasso, Miró, Dali, Chagall and personalities like John Huston and Prince Charles have been used for the labels.
In 1988, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, who had already been associated with her father's work for some time, succeeded her father. She has in turn become the guarantor of the quality of an illustrious wine whose motto proudly proclaims : "Premier je suis, second je fus, Mouton ne change". First I am, second I was, I Mouton do not change
Vineyard soil: very deep gravel on a limestone base Production area: 82.5 ha Grape varieties: 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot Average age of vines: 48 years Harvest method: hand picked. The grapes from the younger vines are harvested first and vinified separately.
Winemaking: Before destemming, the grapes are hand-sorted then selected one by one. Vinification depends on each vintage and the characteristics of each vat. All the relevant parameters, such as temperature, pumping over, aeration, vatting time and running off, are monitored by the technical manager, the cellar-master and the laboratory.
Ageing: 19 to 22 months in oak barrels (almost all new, the percentage varying according to the vintage)
The vintage year 1944 had influence on the history of the bordeaux as a weak wine year. After the good 1943s wines the rainy summer made the winegrowers' bothered by the war life even harder. It thin wines arose without ample ageing potential. Only still with luck to find well drinkable copies.
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