For the first time ever, the proprietors of two of Bordeaux’s first growths agreed to come together for an exclusive interview. STEPHEN BROOK unearths the common ground – and the differences – between Mouton Rothschild and Lafite

Philippine de Rothschild, with Eric de Rothschild at her side, sits in state at a simple trestle table within a vast tent, where 700 of her Mouton-Rothschild harvesters tuck into a lunch of pot au feu. She grabs a napkin, scribbles ‘Happy Birsdé!’ on it and passes it to her cousin.

PdR: ‘He’s 68 today! You see, Eric, I have even written you this card in French.’

EdR: ‘In Médocain.’

PdR: ‘Absolument, Médocain. You know, Eric, I feel this interview we’re about to do could be a complete flop.’

With that encouraging prediction, we retreat to a quiet salon where I do my best to confound the prophecy. If there was any rivalry between the two families, it is scarcely in evidence.

In the past, relations had been frosty, which was hardly surprising given that the opposition to Mouton’s promotion to first growth was spearheaded by the owner of Lafite. But that battle ended 35 years ago.

The present proprietors speak of each other as ‘cousins’, although the relationship is more distant, given that they come from separate branches of the dynasty (see panel, p38). Mouton and Lafite are neighbouring wine estates, but as wine businesses, they are very different.

Eric de Rothschild maintains his day job as a private banker in Paris, and keeps an eye on his family’s other properties in Bordeaux (Duhart-Milon, L’Evangile and Rieussec) as well as other ventures in the Languedoc, Chile, and Argentina.

Philippine de Rothschild is the sole owner of Mouton and its two classed-growth neighbours in Pauillac (d’Armailhac and Clerc-Milon) and also monitors her New World outposts: Opus One in Napa and Almaviva in Chile. Not to mention a substantial négociant business, best known for Mouton Cadet.

I begin by asking them when they first met.

Philippine de Rothschild: ‘That question makes me scream with laughter!’