Philippine de Rothschild, an energetic and self-certain grande dame of Bordeaux wine who halted an acting career to run vineyards owned by the family dynasty, has died, her company said. She was 80.
She died Friday night in Paris “from the effects of a serious operation,” winemaker Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA said in a statement, without specifying further.
De Rothschild, who cracked a male-dominated wine industry to become company chairwoman and was known by many as simply “the Baroness,” understood the ups and downs of bearing one of Europe’s best-known family names: As a girl in Nazi-occupied France, she used her mother’s maiden name; as a professional actress, she took a stage name.
In a 1999 interview with French newspaper Liberation, she said: “When your name is Rothschild, everyone thinks you had an easy childhood.”
Hers — during World War II — was not. She was born Nov. 22, 1933, in Paris. Her father, a scion of the fabulously wealthy Jewish banking family, fled to England to join Gen. Charles de Gaulle’s expatriate administration. She stayed behind with her mother Elisabeth, who believed that her Catholic religion would spare her deportation.
But in 1944, just two months before the Allies liberated Paris, the Nazis deported De Rothschild’s mother to Ravensbrueck, Germany, where she died the next year. De Rothschild, in her comments to Liberation, recalled that she herself was spared deportation only because one German officer thought of his own daughter, who was about the same age, when he saw her. After the war, de Rothschild spent decades at the Comedie Francaise and elsewhere in the theater circuit, using the stage name Philippine Pascal.
When her father, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, died in 1988, she took control at the family business, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, later renaming it after him.
While the Rothschild dynasty made its name first in finance, the family’s London branch ran the Chateau Mouton Rothschild winery in France for five generations. De Rothschild expressed pride to be the first woman to run it.
Her father notably added innovation to an often staid industry by adorning drawings of artists like Picasso or Dali onto wine bottle labels. She continued the tradition: British artist Lucian Freud was commissioned to create the label for the 2006 edition of Chateau Mouton Rothschild — a wine that has been known to fetch thousands of dollars per bottle over the years.
Mouton Cadet, one of the company’s wines, is recognized well beyond the rarefied world of connoisseurs. De Rothschild maintained Baron Philippe de Rothschild’s Opus One venture in Napa Valley with Robert Mondavi, an alliance of New World vigor and Old World know-how.
Twice married, she is survived by two sons, a daughter and grandchildren.
Keaten writes for the Associated Press.