50 years ago, the reclassification of Château Mouton-Rothschild began


But how did Baron Philippe de Rothschild obtain the 1973 revision of the intact monument, the 1855 classification of Médoc wines? Dedicating all his life and energy to it, according to his autobiography, Live my life (City press, 1981). “Who would want an end… Does not a just cause require ruthless determination?” » writes Philippe de Rothschild, dismayed by the caricatures circulating about him. “Twenty years of struggle is like a tireless angry bee. Hurting each other. Juggling the phone. Wake this up, that one. Without hesitation before any step. It is done for stormy or glamorous occasions. Playing the devil and the good god.

Above all, he had to convince the four Premier Grands Crus Classés (Haut-Brion, Margaux, Lafite Rothschild and Latour) in 1855, when the Baron succeeded in obtaining a competitive framework that re-opened the classification according to the category of Premiers. “Finally! Late January 1973: polite letter from cousin to cousin, Consensus of Four. Registration for the competition is open at the beginning of February. Closes at the end of the month » Philip de Rothschild summarizes in his memoirs. In his autobiography Bordeaux Grands Crus (Glénat editions, 2022), Jean-Michel Cazes is more precise: “Latour immediately declared in writing that he was in favor of promoting Mouton Rothschild. Lafite drags his feet, then softens his attitude. But Margot insisted on refusing to participate for a long time before giving up in early 1973. Unfazed by the operation, Gravesley expressed concern at Haut-Brion, but eventually agreed to enter “by assimilation.” Among the growths classified Médoc.in the official list. »


As these two actors of Bordeaux Grands Crus remind us, the reclassification of Château Mouton-Rothschild was not easy. To move from second class to premier crew class just fifty years ago, “Negotiations, exchanges of letters and, finally, the tension created by this annoying conflict created a harmful atmosphere in the Medoc and Bordeaux, and real pressure was needed from the public authorities who were sure to put an end to it. “Officials admit that integrity demands that Mouton Rothschild be redressed, and that so much malice be put to rest.” Philip de Rothschild claims. This tension “even led to regrettable events: on December 22, 1972, a certain visit to Philippe from one of the Quatre faires. It is done in front of a witness. It’s better to pass it on silently.” Philippe de Rothschild shouts, preferring not to stir up past enmities.

Finally, “On June 21, 1973, after half a century of Philippine leadership, the decree of the Secretary of Agriculture came out”, then Jacques Chirac, baron rejoiced, he welcomed the 1855 repair he considered a mistake, as well as the 1953 insult. did not keep (although Baron Nathaniel only owned an estate with more farms than the castle itself for two years, according to Baron Philippe). Forgotten in 1855, Mouton is more associated with the first than the second growth for Baron Philippe (nicknamed “the first of the second”), who in the 1920s founded a promotional association called the “quintet”. four and his property. But it happened in 1953 “collision”two of the first four no longer want the fifth and communicate over it “Four Great – Noble Obligations” in the press.

He decided to be the 1st

Something that annoys Baron Philip: “Worse than immorality is defamatory denial. This could cause real harm to Mouton Rothschild, Mouton Baron Philippe and all who work for the Company – owners, managers and employees. A denial that could damage his future. Damage can end in disaster. » 90 years ago, the need to reclassify Mouton arose for Baron. As he wrote: “Mouton Rothschild should be ‘first’. Real. Legally “first” in the title. It’s easy to say. But there! How to get? Nobody knows. Since 1855, more than a century, the case has never surfaced. There is no method or procedure. »

The first opening was carried out within the Syndicat des Crus Classés, resulting in a fiasco for the National Appellate Institute of Origin (INAO). “1961: A Failed Action” Jean-Michel Cazes summarizes (see box). However, in 1973, the Baron Philippe problem was solved by the adoption of a progressive method, the inspection class by class, entrusted to the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce by the INAO (the origin of the 1855 classification). “Following the global revision, fundamental principle, we can start by ‘opening the race registration’ for a class. Which one? Without hesitation, it can only be “First” class. Other classes have been postponed » Baron summarizes.

It is the first in the ranking of 1973

After this, “the new ‘1973’ replaces the old ‘1855’. For the former, ‘1855’ is now only a historical milestone” Philippe de Rothschild shows, for whom “There are now officially two classifications: 1973 for Premiers and 1855 for other classes, second to fifth increments”. This leads to a revision of the estate’s motto: “First not later, not second, I am Mouton” becomes “I am the first, I have been the second, Mouton does not change”. However, the victory is not complete immediately. As the Baron regrets, “We insist: Mouton Rothschild moved from “First of Seconds” to “Last of Firsts” in the same old classification in 1855. Imprecise, the decree is a novelty. It creates equality among the five. Any other relation to Mouton Rothschild is slanderous. »

“Rothschild wins splash game,” Paris magazine notes, “to make as few waves as possible, the jury contented itself with awarding the premier cru title to Mouton Rothschild and took care not to change anything else.” It recalls Jean-Michel Cazes, reflecting the personal triumph of Château Mouton-Rothschild and the disappointment of other estates hoping to rise with a new ranking. But the principle of progressive revision is self-extinguishing. Some vines are taking their last stand by suing the Chamber of Commerce to restart operations. “Philippe de Rothschild, unlike many, personally advocates a bold revision of other categories. But now he is satisfied and supports them slowly. They will be fired” Jean-Michel Cazes says.

The ban is closed

In 1980, after winning his case, Baron brushed aside the latest criticism of the classification’s separation from redesign: “Some so-called experts criticize Philip for not being interested in the lessons below. Pointless criticism. It has absolutely nothing to do with him. Only the Chamber of Commerce is responsible. He was ready to continue. But he had to be left alone to the Firsts. The next class, dozens of Seconds, categorically refuses the slightest change. » One thing is certain: it would take several barons to hope to move the 1855 classification one iota at present.

Photo: Among his supporters, the baron counts Pierre Perromat, president of the then-reformed INAO, Louis Nebut, vice-president of the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce, and Bar Pierre Sire, adviser to the Chamber of Commerce and lawyer. of the baron.

The failure of 1961

One of the options Baron Philippe is pursuing in his quest for reclassification is to reopen the classification entirely. In October 1959, the Syndicat des Crus Classés voted in favor of revision. “Not without difficulty, not without long arguments” reports Live my life. INAO’s work leads to the proposal of three levels of classification: exceptional first classified grand crus (including Mouton Rothschild), classified first grand crus (including Lynch Bages) and classified grand crus, but also 8 Crus Bourgeois and 15 exceptions. Crus Classés in 1855. It must be said that there are bloody comments in the field trip reports of the expert commission: “If it wasn’t on the previous list, I wouldn’t have thought to keep it or talk about it” Jean-Michel Cazes noted that the publication of this rating caused a great protest and increased frustrations, as summarized by one broker: “disaffected people can be divided into four categories: those who consider themselves humiliated, therefore unjust; unclassified, therefore suffering less; those who consider themselves poorly classified; who consider themselves fairly well-ranked but in bad company.’

In 1961, faced with the announced download, Baron Philippe guessed it“Such a sanction is a clear abuse of power. […] It doesn’t matter that Mouton Rothschild is the “First”, an angry Philip immediately reacts. […] Attacks INAO [et] threat of legal action if the rating is published. Others will follow suit. ». As a result of this cry, the file was buried in 1962. If by the initiative of 1961 “Philippe de Rothschild condemns imprudence”, Jean-Michel Cazes offers another explanation for this change: “the condition in the rules for the new classification: “in no case may the name of the classified growth be used for wines other than those coming from the classified growths”: perhaps they were afraid to see this condition used in relation to Mouton. Cadet brand wine. » That is why INAO was already involved in Bordeaux estate brands 60 years ago!

That’s Mouton’s motto for this stillborn lineup “My rating is not then … your rating is not low … Sheep am!” »

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