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Lee Ufan illustrates the label of Château Mouton Rothschild 2013
Every year since 1945, a great artist has illustrated the label of Château Mouton Rothschild. Thus, the most famous names in contemporary art are brought together in a collection to which a new work is added each year.
The commission for the illustration of the 2013 vintage was given to Lee Ufan, a painter, artist and philosopher of Korean origin born in 1936. Fond of natural materials and simple forms, he creates a mesmerising effect conducive to meditation, weaving his spell with art of great intensity, harmony and restraint. In his work for Mouton, the initially indecisive purple of the drawing gradually attains its full richness, just as a great wine is patiently brought to fulfilment in the secret of the vat house.
Born in a South Korean mountain village in 1936, Lee Ufan received a traditional education, though open to Western culture. He moved to Japan, his adoptive country, in 1956 and took a degree in philosophy at Tokyo’s Nihon University. Ever since, his art has been nourished by constant reflection on the relationship of the self to the other and to matter, on identity and difference.
His painting and sculpting career truly began in the mono ha, or “School of Things”, movement in the late 1960s, displaying an abstract minimalism and use of natural materials which had affinities with arte povera in Italy and process art in the English-speaking world. He soon discovered and imposed a highly personal aesthetic language: in space, his sculptures combine bare rock with plates of steel or glass, while in his painting, simple forms with a single colour but different shades are laid on the canvas in long strokes or concentrated on a random point, seeming to originate in a single creative act. He thus achieves a mesmerising effect conducive to meditation, weaving his spell with art of great intensity, harmony and restraint.
The now world-famous artist has won many prestigious awards, including the UNESCO Prize at the Shanghai Biennale in 2000 and Japan’s Praemium Imperiale in 2001, and has exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the Jeu de Paume museum in Paris and the Guggenheim and MoMA in New York. A museum devoted to him, designed by Tadao Ando, was inaugurated at Naoshima, Japan, in 2010, and a dozen of his works were displayed in the park of Versailles Palace in 2014.
In the work he has created for Mouton 2013, the initially indecisive purple of the drawing gradually attains its full richness, just as a great wine is patiently brought to fulfilment in the secret of the vat house.
“ Mouton ne change”
A Bordeaux First Growth, Château Mouton Rothschild comprises 84 hectares (207 acres) of vines at Pauillac in the Médoc, planted with the classic varieties of the region: Cabernet Sauvignon (80%), Merlot (16%), Cabernet Franc (3%) and Petit Verdot (1%).
The estate benefits from exceptionally favourable natural conditions, in the quality of the soil, the position of its vines and their exposure to the sun. Combining a respect for tradition with the latest technology, it receives meticulous attention from grape to bottle from highly skilled winemakers and vinegrowers responsible for each parcel of the estate. The grapes are harvested by hand in small open crates, sorted on vibrating tables and vinified in oak vats with transparent staves, after which the wine is matured in new oak casks.
Brought to the pinnacle by two exceptional people, Baron Philippe de Rothschild (1902-1988) then his daughter Baroness Philippine (1933-2014), Mouton Rothschild is also a place of art and beauty, famous for the spectacular vista of its Great Barrel Hall, the Museum of Wine in Art and its collection of precious objects associated with the vine and wine from two millennia, and the magnificent new vat house, inaugurated in 2013.
Mouton Rothschild now belongs to Baroness Philippine’s three children, Camille Sereys de Rothschild, Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the family company, Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, which manages the Château, and Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild. United in their commitment to their grandfather’s and mother’s work, all three are determined to perpetuate the celebrated First Growth’s motto, “Mouton ne change” (I, Mouton, do not change), even in the midst of transformation!
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 2013 VINTAGE
Climatic conditions and harvest
2013 will be remembered for its changeable and capricious weather. A cold and damp winter followed by a cool and wet spring held back the vegetation cycle and affected flowering. In striking contrast, July and August were particularly hot and sunny, with considerably less rainfall than the average. Peak temperatures of 38° C caused violent storms in late July.
The water shortage continued in September, encouraging the grapes to ripen evenly. The Cabernets were promising and overall the grapes achieved satisfactory sugar levels with good potential acidity.
The harvest at Mouton Rothschild was completed in record time between 30 September and 9 October with exceptional help from employees of the family company Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, who were invited to come and swell the ranks of the regular pickers. Over 130 staff members responded to the appeal, and on 9 October 695 meals were served in the harvesters’ refectory, an all-time record!
Sorted with painstaking care, the grapes were transported from the picking crates to the gravity-fed vats in the magnificent Mouton Rothschild vat room. In a major innovation, transparent staves in the vats enabled technical staff to observe the vinification process in minute detail.
Although yields were among the lowest of the last 40 years, draconian selection ensured high quality. The 2013 vintage has been tended, fashioned and fine-tuned so as to get the very best out of the grapes.
2013 BORDEAUX VINTAGE REPORT
The 2013 vintage in Bordeaux was one of the most challenging since 1965 and 1968. Thomas Duroux of Chateau Palmer describes it as “the most complicated vintage in 20 years”. It rained almost continuously during spring. Flowering was uneven resulting in poor set, millerandage and coulure. The threat of mildew was mollified by the arrival of hot dry weather during summer. For a while vignerons were hopeful that plentiful sunshine and benign weather would allow the vines to catch up. Violent storms, wind and intermittent heavy rainfall in July and August hampered vine growth and created difficulties with fruiting. High humidity and cool temperatures prior to harvest led to a slowdown in ripening and the perfect environment for botrytis (grey rot) infection. Merlot did not perform well on the left bank. Chateau Margaux certainly was vulnerable to these conditions, but others, in their efforts to talk up the vintage, have shown superb Gallic denial. You would be forgiven for believing this might be an exceptional vintage; such is the brilliance of the best professional liars in the world.
In years gone by, the weather conditions, uneven ripening and disease pressure would have resulted in disastrous wines. Chateau Margaux avoided the worst rains by bringing in a picking team of 300 people to harvest the crop at lightning speed. Chateau Lafite also raced against the elements and won. Most Chateaux do not have this type of luxury. Sorting tables, were “derigeur” during the harvest, allowing the best berries to be selected. I can’t remember seeing any red wine with noticeable botrytis characters. The fruit, however, did not generally ripen to optimum levels. Many producers found it necessary to chaptalize their vinifications to allow the wine to reach a more attractive level of alcohol. Some Chateaux, including Cos d’Estournel at 12.7% alc, made their wines apparently without the addition of sugar. Most estates, however, found it difficult to achieve phenolic ripeness. Tannins are the framework of all red wines. They don’t have to be perfectly ripe; an “al-dente” texture can give a compelling freshness and appealing structure. But it was easy to over extract in 2013. The very best wines were those that were “unpushed” and intuitive to vintage conditions. The use of saignée (juice run off), reverse osmosis and other methods to concentrate wine, is never talked about by winemakers, but there were a few wines with soupy textures and unnatural mouthfeel.
Many of the 2013 primeurs wines have only been in barrel for a few weeks. This creates challenges because the oak characters can detract from the inherent quality of the young wines. Many Chateaux will no doubt adjust their oak maturation philosophies to match the character of the vintage. Others will use oak as a cosmetic or builders bog to fill the structural inadequacies of their wine. Acidity is also strongly present in the wines this year. This element is essential for the freshness, tension and life expectancy of any vintage. In riper years, acidity tends to play second fiddle, yet in 2013, it is a principal violin. Fruit character, perhaps the most important feature of any wine, inevitably varies according to sub region and vineyard. The very best wines of this vintage have the aromatic quality, persistence and depth of good vintages. Ultimately the most triumphant red wines are proportionate to the commitment and the financial resources of the wine producer.
Although Merlot struggled in the Medoc, it performed well on the right bank. Pomerol was comparatively resplendent with generous fruit and riper tannin backbones than elsewhere. St Emilion was also capable of making some lovely wine, but as usual the results were mixed. Pessac Leognan reds were muscular and on the rustic side, whereas the whites were minerally and fresh with strong acidities. Many feel that the dry whites are excellent. For most Australians, these wines don’t really offer value. There were some good Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant red wines made in the Medoc. However, no single sub region prevailed. If anything I preferred Pauillac, especially Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste and Chateau Batailley.
The humidity that hampered the 2013 harvest in the Medoc and elsewhere worked in favour of Sauternes and Barsac producers. There was a ‘widespread proliferation” of botrytis cinerea (noble rot) during Bordeaux’s wet autumn. The wines range from magnificent to standard in quality. The very best have a beautiful honey, barley water complexity, understated richness and viscosity and fresh acidity. Chateau d’Yquem is remarkably good. The biodynamic Chateau Climens is a beautiful expressive wine. Every year, I taste it in barrel and in parts. I can imagine the final blend and it will not disappoint.
The 20% drop in exchange rates between the Australian Dollar and the Euro over the last year will make the 2013 more expensive that the better 2012 and 2011 vintages. Unfortunately this will have a significant impact on market opportunities in Australia. It is unlikely the Chateau owners will drop their prices significantly enough to make this campaign worthwhile. The drop in demand from China and the “pipeline” full in other markets will result in sluggish sales across the world. Although this year’s primeur campaign will test the resilience of the traditional Bordeaux wine trade, there is still an impressive level of optimism. I think everyone is looking forward to moving on from the 2013 vintage. On the other hand this is the type of vintage, with a touch of bottle age, that could reappear in a more favourable light in a few years time.
by ANDREW CAILLARD MW