Mouton Cadet in makeover to beat off the New World

As French wines fight back, Baron Philippe de Rothschild's ailing brand is being relaunched. Abigail Townsend reports
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Baron Philippe de Rothschild is to relaunch its ailing Bordeaux brand Mouton Cadet, the latest in a string of wines to be reinvented for modern tastes.

Baron Philippe de Rothschild is to relaunch its ailing Bordeaux brand Mouton Cadet, the latest in a string of wines to be reinvented for modern tastes.

The French wine house, led by Baroness Philippine de Roths- child, has switched UK distributors, redesigned the packaging and is investing €20m (£14m) over the next 10 years in changing the way the famous brand is produced.

It is following in the footsteps of a number of old favourites, such as Piat d'Or, Mateus Rosé, Blue Nun and Black Tower, which have all relaunched over the past few years.

Wine consumption continues to surge in the UK but the popularity of wines such as Mouton, once the de rigueur choice of 1980s dinner parties, has waned in the face of fierce New World competition.

Wines from America, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, which boast modern packaging and a more standardised taste, have soared in popularity and overtaken such traditional producersas France.

A recent survey of the most popular wines in the UK failed to include a single European brand. Instead, brands such as Blossom Hill and Jacob's Creek dominated the list. Bordeaux has also been one of the worst-hit areas within the traditional wine-making regions, with exports for all but its most prestigious wines down by 12 per cent.

However, Caroline Stranders, senior brand manager at Mouton's new distributor, John E Fells & Sons, believes the wine can be successfully relaunched, despite fierce competition. "I think it can, though it takes investment. It's about reaching beyond the current consumer base and trying to bring new people into the brand," she said.

The wine is being aimed at younger professionals as well as women. "We want to make it something a new consumer base can relate to, instead of the rather stuffy Bordeaux image," Ms Stranders added.

Baron Philippe de Rothschild and John E Fells will carry out a number of Christmas promotions before starting a new marketing push in the new year. A sponsorship deal is currently being examined.

However, Baron Philippe de Rothschild has also conceded the quality of the wine has slipped in recent years, and is therefore changing production methods.

In the past, wine was bought from various producers in the Bordeaux region and then matured by Baron Philippe de Rothschild. But while the group will still source grapes from other vintners, it will produce the wine itself.

Managing director Xavier de Eizaguirre said: "We want a closer grip on quality and to make sure that at the end of the process we have something more in line with the competition. New World wines are already doing this."

Wine experts agree this is crucial if a relaunch is to be successful. David Scotland, president of Allied Domecq's wine arm, which includes such New World heavyweights as Montana, said: "There are wines that as a student you might have thought were the acme, but we look back now and know they were not great. Longevity is therefore about what's in the bottle as well as the brand."