A leading figure in Bordeaux, Philippe Cottin, former CEO of Château Mouton-Rothschild and patriarch of négociant Dubos Frères & Cie, died Sept. 10 in Bordeaux. He was 81.
Born in Lyon, Cottin came to Bordeaux in 1959 as a young man looking for his first job after a tour of duty in the Algerian War. Baron Philippe de Rothschild hired him as commercial director for Mouton Cadet, and he soon rose through the ranks to become co-CEO of Philippe de Rothschild SA, including first-growth Château Mouton-Rothschild. He remained at the helm until 1995.
“Mouton was his life,” said his son, Robert Cottin. “He found one job and stayed there his entire career.”
"He was my father's right-hand man for years, he was completely attached to Mouton," said Baroness Philippine de Rothschild. She remembers Cottin going to her father's bedroom each day—the Baron worked from bed in the morning—to sit in an armchair next to the bed and discuss the business for the day.
Cottin’s tenure in Pauillac oversaw an exciting period of innovation and modernization in the wine trade. He was instrumental in the explosive growth of the Mouton Cadet brand wine and helped bring the Opus One joint venture between Robert Mondavi and Philippe de Rothschild to fruition. "He was the man who introduced Mouton to America," said Baroness Philippine. "It was his most extraordinary achievement." But he also steered the company through tumultuous times, terrible weather and chaotic markets.
“There was a crisis in the 1970s when prices collapsed overnight, and Philippe was in command at the time,” recounted Hervé Berland, former co-CEO of Mouton-Rothschild. Recruited by Cottin in 1977 at age 27, Berland said his "coach" taught him almost everything he knows in the business. “You felt secure with him. He was always serene—a great leader. Enthusiastic and optimistic for the future.”
After 36 years with the Rothschilds, Cottin retired. But his four children had other ideas: The family acquired Dubos Frères, one of Bordeaux’s oldest wine merchant firms, in 1997, and Philippe went back to work. “We brought him in as our advisor, and he was the cement that held us together and made sure we got along,” said Robert.
Philippe's wealth of experience made him an invaluable consultant for his children and colleagues, even on an informal basis. “I continued to see him every couple months,” said Berland, who left Mouton-Rothschild in 2011 to become general manager of second-growth Château Montrose in St.-Estèphe. “He was loyal in his friendships, and he always had interesting suggestions and comments, and a straightforward vision."
Cottin is survived by his wife, four children and six grandchildren. His children—Robert, Emmanuel, Guillaume and Martine—continue to run Dubos Frères, which includes the popular Bordeaux wine shop La Vinothèque and an e-commerce site.