Chiharu Shiota revealed as creator of the label for Château Mouton Rothschild’s 2021 vintage

The Japanese artist follows in the footsteps of Joan Miró, Andy Warhol and David Hockney in being invited to design the label for the latest vintage of Château Mouton Rothschild. A dozen bottles of the wine — including an imperial and a nebuchadnezzar — are offered online, with proceeds benefitting the Association Antoine Alléno

Chiharu Shiota (b. 1972), Universe of Mouton, an original artwork for the label of Château Mouton Rothschild 2021. The unique assortment of formats of Château Mouton Rothschild 2021 sold for €237,500 on 8 December 2023 at Christie’s Online

Until 8 December 2023, Christie’s is offering a unique single-lot auction: six bottles, three magnums, one double-magnum, one imperial and the only nebuchadnezzar available to date from the 2021 vintage of Château Mouton Rothschild, featuring a label designed by the Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota. The winning bidder and three guests will be invited to Château Mouton Rothschild for a tour of the estate and the 2022 Artist Reveal dinner. Also included is an immersive dinner for four, with wine pairing, at Yannick Alléno’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Alléno Paris au Pavillon Ledoyen.

Born in Osaka in 1972, Chiharu Shiota studied at Kyoto Seika University before completing her studies in Berlin under the direction of Rebecca Horn and Marina Abramović. Her early works were inspired by those artists’ extreme durational performances, and in the 2000s Shiota began to produce her signature ‘paintings in mid-air’, explaining that she wanted to recreate the ‘human presence without a physical body’.

Chiharu Shiota in her studio. Her artwork for Chateau Mouton Rothschild shows four threads emerging from a solitary figure, representing the four seasons

Chiharu Shiota in her studio. Her artwork for Château Mouton Rothschild shows four threads emerging from a solitary figure, representing the four seasons. ‘It is like preserving the memory of the year in the wine,’ she says. ‘I believe that the objects that surround us accumulate our memories and existence.’ Photo: © Sunhi Mang

Shiota creates site-specific installations and sculptures that are so tactile and immersive it is almost as if they have created their own consciousness; they seem to live, breathe and feel as organically as we do.

The artist came to international recognition in 2015, when she represented Japan at the Venice Biennale. Her extraordinary installation, The Key in the Hand, featured a vast, red, Hokusai-like wave of thread. Entwined within were hundreds of old keys, which the artist said contained the memories of people long dead. In the wake of Japan’s 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the work encapsulated the transcendent force of nature with an overpowering simplicity.

Shiota’s Universe of Mouton is the most recent result of a collaboration between the vineyard and artists that stretches back almost a century to 1924, two years after Baron Philippe de Rothschild was entrusted with the running of his family’s wine estate in Médoc at the age of 20.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2021: Unique Lot and Experience. 6 bottles, 3 magnums, 1 double-magnum, 1 imperial and 1 nebuchadnezzar

Château Mouton Rothschild 2021: Unique Lot and Experience. 6 bottles, 3 magnums, 1 double-magnum, 1 imperial and 1 nebuchadnezzar. Sold for €237,500 on 8 December 2023 at Christie’s Online

Baron Philippe made the radical decision to begin bottling his entire harvest on site, rather than sending it in barrels to the local Bordeaux merchants for maturing, bottling and marketing. To celebrate the move, he asked the young poster designer Jean Carlu to create a unique label that would become the wine’s visual trademark.

Carlu responded with a fittingly modern illustration. It featured a dynamic, Cubist ram and a quiver of arrows — part of the Rothschild family’s insignia. Below, in a striking Art Deco font, were the words ‘Ce vin a été mis en bouteille au château’, indicating that the wine had been made and bottled by the producer.

This pioneering label is one of the earliest examples of an artist being commissioned to work with a prestigious company.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild's monumental new cuvier, or vat room, where the vinification of the wine takes place

Château Mouton Rothschild’s monumental new cuvier, or vat room, where the vinification of the wine takes place. It contains a total of 64 vats. Photo: © Alain Benoit / Deepix

At the end of the Second World War, Baron Philippe decided to turn what had been a one-off idea into a tradition. He commissioned the artist Philippe Jullian to illustrate a label that commemorated not only his return to the château — he had escaped to England during the war — but the return of peace across Europe. Jullian’s design featured the ‘V’ for victory that had been popularised by Churchill, accompanied by the year and the words ‘année de la victoire’.

Ever since then, each vintage of Château Mouton Rothschild has been labelled with a new artwork, many of them by some of the 20th century’s greatest names. The roll call of artists the estate has worked with includes Georges Braque (1955), Salvador Dalí (1958), Joan Miró (1969), Pablo Picasso (1973), Andy Warhol (1975), Keith Haring (1988), Francis Bacon (1990) and David Hockney (2014). In 2004, even King Charles — then Prince of Wales — agreed to offer an artwork for the label, underlining the commission’s prestige.

Château Mouton Rothschild 1945. The artist’s label, by Philippe Jullian, features the ‘V’ for victory to mark the end of hostilities in Europe

Château Mouton Rothschild 2010. Jeff Koons turned to the classical world for inspiration, reinterpreting a Pompeian fresco of the birth of Venus

‘Mouton Rothschild is one of just five first-growth wines from Bordeaux, and is famous the world over,’ says Tim Triptree MW, International Director of Wines and Spirits at Christie’s in London. ‘When a great vintage and a great label collide, it’s hugely collectable. Recent examples that spring to mind are the 2009 and 2010 vintages, with labels by Anish Kapoor and Jeff Koons respectively. Farther back, the 1945 vintage is regarded as one of the best ever.’

According to Triptree, however, the ultimate prize among collectors is a complete ‘vertical’ — featuring a bottle from every vintage of the last century. ‘Someone I know in London built a huge wooden and glass display cabinet to show off theirs,’ says the specialist. ‘I’ve known others to frame prints of their favourite labels and hang them on their walls.’

Baron Philippe de Rothschild's radical decision to bottle the entire vintage on site led to the creation of Chateau Mouton Rothschild's Great Barrel Hall in 1926

Baron Philippe de Rothschild’s radical decision to bottle the entire vintage on site led to the creation of Château Mouton Rothschild’s Great Barrel Hall in 1926. The building is 100 metres long and can hold up to 1,000 casks. Photo: © Deepix

Today, the job of commissioning a new label for each vintage falls to Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild, the grandson of Baron Philippe, who together with his siblings Camille Sereys de Rothschild and Philippe Sereys de Rothschild now co-owns the estate.

A trained art historian and former Old Masters dealer, Julien de Beaumarchais often begins planning commissions years in advance. He says that the artists are chosen first and foremost because he likes their work. Once his choice has been agreed with the family, the artist is invited to pay a secret visit to the vineyard to learn more about the terroir and its traditions. They’re also given an opportunity to view the château’s Paintings for Labels exhibition — first curated by Julien’s mother, Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, in 1981 — which displays the original artwork for every label.

Every artist is given free rein to create what they wish, although, according to the château, themes of ‘the vine, the wine and the ram have proved a particularly rich source of inspiration’.

Château Mouton Rothschild 2013. Korean artist Lee Ufan, a leading figure of the Dansaekhwa (Monochrome) movement, created a label that exemplifies his desire to keep ‘expression to a minimum in order to achieve the maximum’

Château Mouton Rothschild 2020. Peter Doig’s luminous artwork, which he called a ‘homage to the people who work in the vineyard and pick the grapes’, recalls the paintings of Van Gogh and Millet

Last year’s label, by the Scottish painter Peter Doig, was unveiled at a ceremonial dinner in Bordeaux, where it was also revealed that — following protocol — Doig didn’t receive a fee for his work. The artists are not paid but are given bottles of Château Mouton Rothschild as a token of gratitude, including some of ‘their’ vintage, of course.

The subsequent auction of a 12-bottle ‘horizontal’ included a one-off nebuchadnezzar and a double-magnum signed by Doig. The sale raised €175,000, with proceeds going to Bordeaux’s firefighters.

The 2021 vintage offered at Christie’s will feature the only nebuchadnezzar available to date, while the double-magnum’s label will be signed by the artist and the owners of the château. The sale will this year benefit the Association Antoine Alléno, a charity that supports grieving families. It was founded by the chef Yannick Alléno, who lost his son in 2022.

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‘This initiative between Château Mouton Rothschild and contemporary artists was initially well ahead of its time,’ says Triptree. ‘It has since become a hallmark of the wine’s importance and quality, and the release of each new vintage is always a moment of great excitement among collectors.’

Included with the 12-bottle lot of Château Mouton Rothschild 2021 is an invitation for four people to enjoy an immersive experience at Yannick Alléno’s three-Michelin starred restaurant, Alléno Paris au Pavillon Ledoyen, featuring a specially prepared, wine-focused dinner and a behind-the-scenes tour of this temple of French cuisine. The winning bidder will also be invited to attend the dinner at which next year’s label (the 2022 vintage) will be revealed, attended by the Rothschild family and the chosen artist

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