Then and Now: Baron Eric de Rothschild

In 2015, an industry veteran confronts his younger self, displaying the virtues of both energy and wisdom
Then and Now: Baron Eric de Rothschild
Wine Spectator's Marvin Shanken took Baron Eric de Rothschild (right) by surprise with a video from 1983. (Shannon Sturgis)
Nov 5, 2015

Baron Eric de Rothschild, co-owner of Bordeaux's Château Lafite Rothschild, took the stage Oct. 22 at the Marriott Marquis in New York to present his 2003 vintage to 1,000 wine lovers at the New York Wine Experience.

Then he was ambushed by his past.

Wine Spectator editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken introduced the tasting by showing a video clip from 1983, 32 years previous. In it, a younger, and visibly more nervous, Eric de Rothschild faced another ballroom full of wine lovers, to present six vintages of Château Lafite Rothschild. That vertical tasting, which spanned 1979 to 1949, including the legendary 1961, was the highlight of the 1983 Wine Experience.

“It was my great desire to surprise you—and possibly embarrass you,” Shanken told de Rothschild as they bantered at the podium. “But your smile tells me this memory is a happy occasion.”

The video was taken from The California Wine Experience, a documentary that surveyed the California wine industry in the early 1980s, as wine was gaining popularity and success in the United States. The one-hour production, funded by the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation, was aired on more than 300 public television stations around the country.

The documentary includes scenes with major figures of the wine industry, including Robert Mondavi, André Tchelistcheff, Ernest and Julio Gallo, and others. Visits to wineries and vineyards are interspersed with footage shot at the 1983 Wine Experience, which took place at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. The film’s narrator is Robert Foxworth, who was then starring in the hit television drama Falcon Crest, which was set in Napa Valley and ran for 10 seasons, from 1981 to 1990.

As the earlier era flickered to life on the big screen, the audience at the Marriott roared their approval and expressed envy for their predecessors, who had so clearly appreciated those classic vintages of Lafite Rothschild.

Baron Eric expressed visible emotion on viewing the long-ago tasting, which included colleagues and friends now deceased. He revealed that he was still enjoying those older vintages, and confidently asserted that the 2003 would one day achieve similar heights. And he remarked that one of Lafite’s most remarkable characteristics is its ability to produce great wines year after year, in a way that brings past and present together into a continuity of pleasure. Just as the video did for him.

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