Following an 80-year-old tradition, Château Mouton-Rothschild has unveiled its artist's label for the 2001 vintage, the Bordeaux first-growth's newest release.
Mouton's owner, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, selected American stage director Robert Wilson to design the label. Wilson, a multidisciplined artist, is best known for his work in experimental theater, which includes Deafman Glance, The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin and Einstein on the Beach. He is also the founder of the Watermill Center, an art institute located on Long Island, N.Y.
Theater is a shared passion between Wilson and Rothschild, longtime friends; Rothschild was a well-known French actress before taking over Mouton's operation from her father. She also wanted an American to design the 2001 label to honor the United States' resilience after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Wilson's design features two side-by-side portraits of Rothschild, imbued with broad strokes of color. He described it in a press release as "a symphony of colors in which the green vine shoots and the gold of the sun harmonize with the chromatic scale of the wine, from light red to deep purple."
The label-as-art tradition began in 1924, when Baron Philippe de Rothschild -- then only 22 years old -- began bottling the château's wine at the estate. Previously, most Bordeaux winemakers delivered their wines in barrels to merchants, who assumed the responsibility of aging the wine for two years and bottling it. Philippe wanted his innovation to be noticed, so he hired prominent commercial artist Jean Carlu to fashion a label.
Carlu's bold Cubist ram's head (the symbol of Mouton) and arrows (the Rothschild emblem) stood in stark contrast to the more restrained labels of the other first-growths. In following years, other top producers began experimenting with their labels to make them more eye-catching.
The artist's label became a regular feature on Mouton bottles with the legendary 1945 vintage, when after World War II, the baron tapped artist Philippe Jullian, who was also active in the theater, to emblazon the label with a "V" for victory.
While other estates now feature artists' works on their labels, Mouton has remained ahead of the pack, attracting over the years a who's who list of contemporary painters, sculptors and luminaries that has included Jean Cocteau, Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí, Jean Miró, Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky, Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. In keeping with the baron's original rules, artists are not paid any money for their work, but are compensated with wine from that vintage.
Read more about Mouton-Rothschild's labels: