Baronne Philippine de Rothschild: Actress and wine-producer who worked with Catherine Deneuve before making a success of the family empire

 

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The Independent Online

Though her first career was as an actress, Philippine de Rothschild took over the wine business developed by her father, Baron Philippe (born 1902) following his death in 1988, and made a huge success of it.

Ebullient and sparkling, with a warm, gravelly voice that was equally attractive in French or English, Baronne Philippine seemed more likely to be the face of a Champagne house than of the first-growth Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Bordeaux's best-selling branded wine, Mouton Cadet.

Behind the dazzling smile and sexy growl were memories of a difficult childhood. Born in Paris in 1933, she was descended from the English branch of the Jewish dynasty, via Nathaniel Rothschild, who moved to Paris in 1850. Three years later he acquired Château Brane Mouton, a vineyard in Pauillac in the Gironde department and renamed the estate Château Mouton Rothschild. Her own father, Baron Philippe, racing car driver, film producer and man of letters, revolutionised wine-making in Bordeaux when he took over Mouton in 1924.

Today it seems incredible, but he was the first to bottle wine at the château, thus giving the winemaker the control over the use of new wood, ageing and even labelling of the product (he also began Mouton's tradition of using celebrated artists to design the labels in exchange for a few cases; Jeff Koons did the 2010 label and Guy de Rougemont the 2011). In 1973 he won a great victory, changing for the first time the 1855 classification of Bordeaux to elevate Mouton to the fifth first-growth claret.

Philippine's mother, Elisabeth Pelletier de Chambure, a French Catholic aristocrat, was not married to her father, but to a Belgian, Jonkheer Marc de Becker-Rémy, who took legal proceedings and even threatened to kidnap the child. Finally, they were divorced in 1934 and her parents married that same year in Paris. They had a son in 1938, but he died soon after his birth. After a stormy five years together, in 1939, Philippe and Elisabeth separated, and she went back to using her maiden name.

When war broke out Elisabeth thought she would be safe from the Germans because of her Catholic background and the fact that she no longer called herself Rothschild. But her mother was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she died on 23 March 1945 – probably in a typhus epidemic, though Baron Philippe later wrote, in a memoir co-authored by Joan Littlewood, that she was thrown alive into the gas ovens. She seems to have been the only Rothschild to die during the War. Baron Philippe was allowed to leave France by the Vichy government, joined de Gaulle's Free French forces in London and was awarded the Croix de Guerre.

Philippine studied at the Paris Conservatoire National d'Art Dramatique, completing the course in 1958. Using the stage name Philippine Pascale she acted in the Comédie Française with Catherine Deneuve, was in the Deneuve film Heartbeat (1968), played a lead role in the French television film Harold et Maud with Madeleine Renaud (1978) and appeared with Jeremy Irons and Alain Delon in Swann in Love (1984).

In 1961 she married Jacques Noël Sereys, a theatre director and actor; following their divorce, she married Jean-Pierre de Beaumarchais, a descendant of the 18th century playwright. In 1970 she began working in the family business, though during the several years in the 1980s when Jane Grigson and I judged an Observer cookery competition in collaboration with Mouton Cadet and made annual visits to the château, it was more frequently Baron Philippe who was our host.

She was, however, very press-savvy. She was once photographed for a feature I was writing on women prominent in the wine business, and she vetoed the photographer's request that she (and the others, who included a duchess) be pictured proposing a toast: "A lady must never be photographed holding a glass."

She inherited three estates in Bordeaux: Mouton Rothschild (bought by her great-great grandfather), and the later acquisitions of the excellent Château d'Armailhac and Château Clerc Milon. Philippine was chairwoman and majority shareholder of Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA. At the time of her father's death the company sold 1.3 million cases of wine a year. By 2000, sales had almost doubled to 2.1 million cases and around $155 million.

Her father began the collaboration with Robert Mondavi in Napa Valley to create Opus One, a claret-style cabernet sauvignon; but she presided with her two sons, Philippe and Julien, over the release of its first claret-style vintage in 1998, Viña Almaviva from Puente Alto, Chile, in collaboration with Concha y Toro, and of the purchase of Baron'arques in Languedoc-Rousillon, renovating it extensively and producing their first vintage in 2003.

Both have proved successful, and her arts-minded father would have approved of the associations of Almaviva with Mozart and with his Beaumarchais grandson. She was made an Officier of the Légion d'Honneur in 2007, and in 2013 was given a lifetime achievement award by the world's most serious wine academy, the UK's Institute of Masters of Wine.

PAUL LEVY

Philippine Mathilde Camille de Rothschild, actress and wine producer: born Paris 22 November 1933; married 1961 Jacques Noël Sereys (marriage dissolved; one daughter, one son), secondly Jean-Pierre de Beaumarchais (one son); died 23 August 2014.

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