Baron Benjamin de Rothschild—banker, philanthropist and wine estate owner—died of a heart attack at his home, Château de Pregny, in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jan. 15. He was 57.
De Rothschild was chairman of the privately owned financial group Edmond de Rothschild, founded by his father, which has banks in Paris, Luxembourg, Geneva and London, with 32 global locations in all. The group specializes in private wealth management and handles more than $190 billion in assets.
The banking heir was famous for his passion for sailing, fast cars and philanthropy. He also loved the world of wine.
In 1973, his father bought Bordeaux’s Château Clarke, when it was a near-derelict cru bourgeois in the Listrac appellation east of Margaux; he later purchased Château Malmaison in the appellation of Moulis. The properties were adjacent, and totaled nearly 200 acres of land, mostly abandoned vines. Edmond poured $20 million into an overhaul of the two estates. He passed both down to Benjamin, as well as a one-sixth share of Lafite Rothschild, managed by his cousins.
Benjamin expanded in Bordeaux and beyond. He acquired a Right Bank estate, Château des Laurets, in 2003. He also expanded into Spain, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa in co-ventures with leading winemakers, such as Macán in Rioja, which he founded with the owners of Vega Sicilia. He partnered with his cousins at Mouton and Lafite on a Champagne brand.
In all, his wine company’s seven estates own or manage 1,236 acres of vines in France, Spain, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa, producing nearly 300,000 cases a year. Ninety percent of production is for export, sold to nearly 80 countries. The company controls distribution, even for their Bordeaux châteaus, eschewing the Place de Bordeaux.
While his wines did not occupy the same rung as his cousins' at Mouton and Lafite, he felt an obligation to uphold the Rothschild name. "A great many people are not connoisseurs and buy a label. The name on the label gives them confidence," he told Wine Spectator in 2000. "And that you must not ruin. And we, the Rothschilds, enjoy a fantastic goodwill among consumers, but this power can evaporate quickly."
The vineyards form part of the Edmond de Rothschild Heritage group, founded by his wife, Ariane de Rothschild, in 2016, a brand which encompasses their wineries, hotels, restaurants and a farm.
Benjamin also founded Gitana Team, a yacht-racing outfit, with Ariane. Gitana yachts have triumphed in many competitions, including transatlantic races Route du Rhum and Transat.
He was a leading philanthropist through the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, supporting the arts, health, entrepreneurship and a program with Cambridge University to use social entrepreneurship to improve Jewish-Muslim relations.
In recent years, as his health suffered, his wife took over management of their banking empire as well as the wine and hospitality holdings and the family’s considerable philanthropy.
De Rothschild is survived by Ariane and their four daughters.
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