Baron Eric de Rothschild, chairman of Domaines Barons de Rothschild (DBR), the wine company that includes the iconic Bordeaux first-growth Château Lafite Rothschild, has confirmed a once-in-a-generation transition in leadership. In March 2018, Saskia de Rothschild will move into her father's position while Jean-Guillaume Prats will succeed Christophe Salin, the current president and CEO of the company.
"Christophe Salin and I have spent more than 30 years working together on the management of Lafite and the domaines, and I am extremely grateful for what he has achieved during this period," said Baron de Rothschild, in a statement. "We are happy to welcome a new tandem, which will lead the group to new heights and ensure that we continue to make great wines. That's what we do best!" Baron de Rothschild will remain managing partner at Lafite.
The château has been owned by the same branch of the Rothschild family since 1868. Next year will mark the family's 150th anniversary as owners. Eric de Rothschild, 77, took over the chairmanship in 1975. Under his management, the company has expanded significantly. It now owns nearly 3,000 acres of vines, and multiple estates, including Bordeaux châteaus Duhart-Milon, Rieussec and L'Évangile, Domaine d'Aussières in Languedoc, Los Vascos in Chile and Bodegas Caro, a partnership in Argentina.
While the ultra-premium estate wines are often the most recognized, the company also produces two négociant lines of Bordeaux wines, Légende and Saga, which are phenomenally successful. And the current leadership has played an integral role in building the imported wine market for Bordeaux in China, shipping some 320,000 cases of DBR wines there in 2015 alone.
Baron de Rothschild and Salin began discussing a transition in the spring. "This follows a reflection with Baron Eric a few months ago," Salin told Wine Spectator. Salin joined DBR in 1985. "We've been working together for 30 years. It's good for the company to have some new blood. It's the best way to envisage the future of the company. Lafite is a nice home, and the garden is even bigger [now]—we need a younger gardener."
Saskia de Rothschild, 30, has been serving as cochairman with her father for the last two years. She has a business degree from HEC Paris and Columbia University. Prior to joining DBR, she worked as a journalist for the New York Times in Paris and West Africa.
Salin added that Prats, who has experience both at a leading Bordeaux estate and a large wine group, was a clear candidate as his successor. "It was an obvious choice for him and for me," said Salin.
Prats told Wine Spectator, "I just feel extremely privileged to join the teams of DBR and work by the side of Saskia, who is an exceptional young lady. I will benefit from Christophe's long experience as an advisor."
Prats managed second-growth Château Cos-d'Estournel, previously owned by his family and acquired by Michel Reybier in 2000, for 14 years. Under his stewardship the estate made massive investments in the vineyards and cellars and furthered its reputation for quality. In 2013, Prats left Bordeaux to assume the post of president and CEO of the wine division of Louis-Vuitton Moët-Hennessy (LVMH), which owns 15 estates in eight countries.
"My five years with LVMH have been unique, with great estates and teams and an incomparable sense of luxury," said Prats.
Prats will join the executive management team of DBR in early 2018 and officially succeed Salin on March 31, 2018, in time for Bordeaux's annual barrel tastings. Salin, 62, will continue in a senior advisor role at DBR, "I will not be far, but the executive power will be with Saskia and Jean-Guillaume."
This is expected to be the final stage in the changing of the guard at Lafite for some time. Longtime technical director Charles Chevallier retired in January 2016, replaced by Eric Kohler.