Château Lafite-Rothschild: The Rothschild Family

I have on occasion found the arrival of two branches of the Rothschild family in Bordeaux a little perplexing, and indeed it has been suggested that the motive behind the purchase of Château Lafite by Baron James Mayer de Rothschild (1792 – 1868) was little more than rivalry with his cousins, who had already purchased Château Brane-Mouton, later to be Château Mouton-Rothschild. I have come to conclude that this is unlikely; by the mid-19th century it was quite clear that a significant return could be obtained in Bordeaux. The value of land over the preceding century had rocketed (during the tenure of Marquis Nicolas-Alexandre de Ségur the value of the Lafite estate had increased eight-fold), and I think it more likely that, no doubt influenced to some degree by Baron Nathanial’s acquisition, Baron James made a very shrewd purchase for primarily business reasons.

Château Lafite-Rothschild

That is not to deny, however, that there has been an unparalleled rivalry between the two branches over the years, with each wishing to outdo the other particularly with regard to the perceived prestige of the two properties, as judged usually by the price of the wine on the market (in recent years, however, such rivalry seems to have faded away somewhat). Whatever the thinking, what is known is that Baron James saw little of his new property, as he was already ill at the time of the deal being struck in 1868, and within three months he was dead. His sons, Alphonse (1827 – 1905), Gustave (1829 – 1911) and Edmond (1845 – 1934), took charge at Lafite. Another son, Salomon (1835 – 1864), lived in exile in Frankfurt and then the USA, having squandered too much of the family’s wealth in reckless financial decisions. By the time Lafite was purchased, he was already dead. And there was also a daughter, Charlotte (1825 – 1899), who had married her cousin Nathaniel de Rothschild (1812 – 1870), from the English branch of the family. He was the proprietor of Château Mouton-Rothschild of course, but Charlotte could not, according to Rothschild practices, inherit any part of her own family’s estate.

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