When I was in college my part time job in college was working for a local winery. In retrospect it was one of the best jobs I could have had. Not only did I get discounted wines for what became the fanciest parties on campus, but I learned a lot about wine and winemaking. This knowledge has helped me a lot in life, but it also means that I’m a little bored on most wine tours. Recently though I participated in a wine tour that not only didn’t bore me, it was one of the best I’ve ever experienced.
The Rothschild name is instantly recognizable in most corners of the world, thanks in large part to the tremendous wines created at the Château Mouton Rothschild in the village of Pauillac, about 30 miles north of the city of Bordeaux. I was in France as the guest of Viking River Cruises who invited a bunch of journalists to experience a taste of their newest river cruise itinerary, Châteaux, Rivers & Wine. I wasn’t on the full trip, just a taste of what it will be like but that taste was enough to convince me just how amazing the trip will be for future guests. One of the highlights of the preview tour was the afternoon spent at the Château Mouton Rothschild.
One of the first families of wine making, the House of Mouton Rothschild has been producing wines since the 1850s, their vintages regarded as among some of the best in the world. The large estate grows mostly cabernet sauvignon grapes to produce their annual vintages, an event anticipated almost as no other in the wine world. Driving up to the estate I felt a twinge of excitement. I’ve visited hundreds of wineries around the world, but few have the name and reputation of Mouton Rothschild. Their amazing wines, the labels featuring famous artists, the sheer luxury that exudes from the brand all create an aura of excellence that’s hard to replicate. True to form, just as their wines are without equal, so is a visit to the famous Château.
They have several tour options, from a classic introduction to winemaking to a more interesting experience that includes a look at the importance of art to the family. I was on the wine and art tour, one of the best travel decisions ever made. The first indication that this tour was different happened immediately, when shown into the fermentation room it looked like none other I’ve ever seen. The room was crafted with aesthetics and design kept in mind, along with more utilitarian wine making needs. It was beautiful and set the perfect tone for the experience.
The Rothschilds are not paupers, and spent their lives accumulating artworks and historical objects all related to wine. Being shown into this private museum I felt the breath taken from my lungs. There in one room were Grecian urns, tapestries from the Middle Ages and so much more. My interest in history sprung into action and I explored the objets d’art with the fascination of a kid in a proverbial candy store. This certainly wasn’t an average wine tour, it was something so much more enjoyable.
The true wonderment though has to do with the famous bottle labels of Mouton Rothschild. Baron Philippe de Rothschild came up with the idea of having each year’s label designed by a famous artist of the day and in 1946 this became a permanent part of the Mouton brand. The labels have seen artwork designed by some of the world’s best artists including Salvador Dali, Picasso and Miro. The only exception to date is the unusual gold-enamel bottle for 2000.
To celebrate this unusual aspect of the wine, the Château Mouton Rothschild has created a remarkable exhibit showcasing the original works of art designed by each artist for the bottles. It was amazing to walk through the rows and see on display the original notes penned by Picasso and the artwork submitted by Miro for use on these famous wine bottles. Interestingly enough, the family still chooses each year’s artist and the one who is selected is paid in wine from that vintage year. It’s a quirky thing to be sure, but it’s part of what makes Mouton Rothschild such a fun place to visit.
Of course the tour wasn’t all artwork and ancient urns, guests also get to try several of the wines to taste for themselves what makes it so very exceptional. It truly was a unique travel moment to stand there in the tasting room of Mouton Rothschild, glass in hand drinking one of the best wines in the world in the middle of France. For many people, moments like those are why they travel in the first place.
What amazed me the most was that this remarkable day in Bordeaux is a normal inclusion for all guests onboard Viking River Cruises. That’s what makes them special I think; rather than nickel and dime’ing their guests they include as matter of course remarkable experiences in remarkable places around the world. Leaving the château that afternoon that’s truly the only word I could think of for this experience, remarkable in every way.