Baroness Philippine de Rothschild of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild last night launched an impassioned defence of the high prices increasingly being demanded by Bordeaux's classed growths.

At a gala dinner to open Vinexpo for the world’s wine press – and including guests such as French minister of agriculture Christine Lagarde – at the Pauillac first growth, the Baroness used her speech to defend her property and her blue-chip neighbours against criticism that wine lovers are being priced out of the market.

Referring to the 2005 vintage, she spoke of ‘price levels that would have been

unimaginable a few years ago’, before asking ‘will those prices determine our

future, and if so, how?’

Latching onto a theme brought to the surface by much of the UK press – not least Decanter – in recent months, de Rothschild asked: ‘What are our grand crus

classes today? A luxury product or something to share with friends? Something to

be drunk or a speculative investment? Should we fear that wine will one day quit

the cellar for the strong-room, the table for the display-case?

While de Rothschild didn’t provide direct answers, she referred to the ‘rare, if not to say unique product’ of the classed growths, which relies on ‘three trump cards: terroir, know-how and prestige’, by way of endorsing high prices. She also suggested family estates were at a financial disadvantage to corporate-owned properties.

‘Our future depends… on the fate of our family-owned companies. While a

certain number of crus classes are now entirely controlled and very well-managed

by big French or foreign firms, many of us are proud still to be independent

owners, backed by mainly family shareholders.’

But, she went on, family businesses are restrained by ‘a more limited capacity to invest, exorbitant inheritance, taxes [and] the need to find heirs capable

of getting on with each other, involving themselves in the business and taking

risks. It is not easy.’

The speech took place against the backdrop of prices being released for the 2006 vintage at higher levels than many initially expected – in many cases closer to those of the ‘fabulous’ 2005 vintage than those of the 2004 with which the wines were initially compared.

The dinner, at which the 200-plus guests were served some of Bordeaux’s finest vintages, including the highly-prized 1961 Mouton, ended with a astonishing firework display, which was set against a background of constant sheet lightning, the forerunner of a dramatic thunderstorm.

Written by Guy Woodward in Bordeaux