Talk about the Rothschilds and you will automatically think of finance, the arts and philanthropy. However scratch below the surface and wine, the Jewish community and Israel comes to the fore as an ongoing thread through the family story. Their influence in the building the State of Israel is unparalleled.
Some of the most fundamental institutions in Israel were founded with financial support from this most famous of Jewish families. The Knesset and new Supreme Court Building were funded by the Rothschilds. The Hebrew University, The Israel Museum, Yad Vashem, the Mishkenot Sha’ananim Music Center and the Dorothy Rothschild Open University Campus in Ra’anana, have all benefited greatly from the generosity of the Rothschild family.
Some towns such as Zichron Ya’acov and Binyamina were named after Rothschilds and others such as Rishon Le Zion and Caesarea, remain monuments to their support and generosity.
A modern Israeli wine industry was also created by the Rothschilds, renewing a 5,000 year old tradition. The founding of Carmel Winery was also directly attributable to this unique family and this in turn led to the creation of SCV des Grandes Caves (Agudat Hacormim – the wine growers co-operative). Four of the largest wineries in Israel today (Rishon Le Zion, Zichron Ya’acov, Binyamina & Tishbi) point to a strong Rothschildean influence in their story.
The four Rothschilds who have contributed most to Israel and Israeli wine, are as follows:
BARON JAMES (JACOB) DE ROTHSCHILD
Baron James was the fifth son and youngest child of Mayer Amschel Rothschild from Frankfurt. When he and his brothers were sent to the capitals of Europe, James was sent to Paris. There he became the richest man in France, an advisor to two Kings and a man of power and influence to match his financial brilliance. He was known as ‘the Great Baron’. He was originally named Jacob, but changed his name to James when he arrived in Paris. Jacob remained his Hebrew name.
He was very aware of his responsibility to the Jewish community. However his main international involvement was in trying to resolve the Damascus Affair in 1840, with other notables such as Sir Moses Montefiore. It was significant in that it was the first time Jews of different nationalities had rallied to assist their downtrodden brethren elsewhere. Some historians term this event the roots of Jewish nationalism, which later developed into the Zionist Movement.
In 1868 he purchased Château Lafite, the most famous winery in the world, which he had been trying to buy for thirty eight years. He first made an offer for it in 1830. It cost him four million francs, which was then thought to be an outrageous sum of money for a winery. Unfortunately he died a few months later without even visiting his new purchase, but did have time to speculate in his wine as was revealed in a letter from his son-in-law Nathaniel, owner of Mouton.
Baron James did not really contribute to Israel or Israeli wine, but his name lives on through the winery town of Zichron Ya’acov, which was named in his memory. (It literally means ‘In Memory of Jacob’.) Modern Israel’s wine culture and history has its deepest roots in Zichron Ya’acov and Zichron Ya’acov Wine Cellars remain Israel’s largest winery.
In the world of wine there are a few famous wineries carrying the name of the Rothschild family – Château Mouton Rothschild, Château Lafite Rothschild, and Château Duhart Milon Rothschild. Zichron Ya’acov Wine Cellars is not only the only winery named after a specific Rothschild, but also the only one privileged to be named after the Rothschild who bought Château Lafite!
BARON EDMOND (BENJAMIN) DE ROTHSCHILD (1845-1934)
Baron Edmond was the third son of Baron James and inherited Château Lafite with his two brothers. He played an important role in the history and development of Israel.
He was known by David Ben Gurion as the ‘Father of the Yishuv’ and he spent close to 40 million francs purchasing and reclaiming land, supporting thirty new villages and sponsoring new agricultural settlements. Initially he was known as ‘Hanadiv Hayadua’ (‘The Well-Known Benefactor’), because his donations were given anonymously.
In 1882 he began his involvement in The Holy Land, by sending France’s finest agronomists to survey the land. He then sent his own viticulturists with cuttings from Château Lafite’s vineyards to plant vineyards, and viticulture soon became the dominant form of agriculture. He built the wineries of Rishon Le Zion in 1890 and Zichron Ya’acov in 1892 and sent Bordeaux winemakers to make the first vintages. He even sent the winemaker of Château Lafite, Charles Mortier, to act as a consultant in the 1890’s.
Baron Edmond is commemorated today by Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv and the town of Binyamina is named after his Hebrew name, Benjamin. Many of the other villages he supported were given names to commemorate other members of his family. Apart from Zichron Ya’acov named for his father, Meir Shefaya was named after his grandfather, Bat Shlomo was named after his father-in-law and Mazkeret Batya was named after his wife.
Today he is remembered as one of the founding fathers of Israel. When the shekel currency was reintroduced in Israel for the first time since Biblical Times in the early 1980’s, each of the shekel notes featured the main founding fathers. Theodore Herzl, David Ben Gurion, Chaim Weizmann, Vladimir Jabotinsky, Sir Moses Montefiore & Baron Edmond de Rothschild were each commemorated. The 500 shekel note featured Baron Edmond and appropriately on the back was a bunch of grapes.
Baron Edmond first featured on a wine label with the legendary Carmel Special Reserves of 1976 and 1979 – thought to be Israel’s first international class wines. During the later 1980’s and early 1990’s, Carmel’s premier label was called ‘Rothschild’ – also featuring a picture of the Baron. Nowadays he still appears on the Private Collection label used for the Israel market.
Tishbi Winery was founded in 1985 by a family of growers, whose previous generations had planted vineyards for Rothschild in the 1880’s. In honor of the Baron Edmond, the winery was registered as Baron Wine Cellars Ltd.
Baron Edmond died in 1934 and his remains were re-interred in 1954 in the State of Israel at Ramat Hanadiv, a beautiful, tranquil place, on the southern slopes of Mount Carmel, overlooking Zichron Ya’acov, Binyamina and Caesarea.
JAMES ROTHSCHILD (1878-1957)
James Rothschild, the son of Baron Edmond, was French born, but went on to become a British citizen and even a politician serving as a Member of Parliament in England. However he inherited his father’s love of Israel and his generosity.
He served in the First World War in the British Army, serving as a Major in Palestine for ‘the Jewish Legion’. He was a great friend of Chaim Weizmann, doing much of the groundwork with him that resulted in the Balfour Declaration.
In 1924 he was appointed by his father to manage and direct the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, known as PICA. He was therefore involved in the founding of the town of Binyamina, which was named after his father’s Hebrew name, Benjamin.
In 1952, PICA approved the formation of a new winery in Binyamina called Eliaz Binyamina (18-18). This was situated on the premises of a failed perfume factory called Jasmin, which was built by the Rothschild’s in 1925. The winery now trades under the name ‘Binyamina’.
In 1957 just before his death, PICA was disbanded. James Rothschild donated the funds required to build the Knesset Building and returned all the lands owned by PICA to the State. The wineries at Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov, were donated to SCV des Grandes Caves. This brought to an end the Rothschild involvement in Israeli wine, which had lasted from 1882 to 1957. His wife Dorothy continued his charitable work for many years afterwards.
BARON EDMOND DE ROTHSCHILD (1926-1997)
Baron Edmond was the grandson of the ‘Hanadiv’ and lived in Geneva. In the Rothschild tradition, he was also a banker, collector and benefactor.
He also entered the wine business. However unlike his illustrious cousins in Bordeaux, he chose to purchase and develop an unknown winery called Château Clarke in 1973. This put the unfashionable appellation of Listrac, in the southern Medoc, on the wine map. He produced the first kosher wine to be made by a Rothschild outside Israel. It was called Barons Edmond & Benjamin Rothschild and it was produced at Château Clarke.
He was probably the biggest Zionist of the younger generation. He was one of the founding fathers of the Israel Museum and one of its most generous benefactors. He was chairman of Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Development Corporation created to develop the residential, industrial and leisure areas of Caesarea.
THE CURRENT ROTHSCHILDS
Apart from owning two of the most famous wineries in the world and having extensive wine interests in Bordeaux, the current Rothschilds also have wine interests in the South of France, Argentina, Chile, Italy, Portugal and South Africa. The members of the Rothschild family involved in wine are as follows:
BARONESS PHILPPINE DE ROTHSCHILD (1935- )
Baroness Philippine de Rothschild is today owner of Château Mouton Rothschild and the large Bordeaux Negociants, Baron Philippe de Rothschild S.A.
Mouton was purchased in 1853 by Nathaniel Rothschild, who was from the English side of the family (the son of Nathan Mayer Rothschild, who began the London branch of the family.) Her father, the legendary Baron Philippe, was probably the most innovative and flamboyant figure in the world of wine in the twentieth century.
She inherited the famous Bordeaux Châteaux Mouton Rothschild, Clerc Milon and d’Armailhac, as well as Mouton Cadet, the world’s first wine brand and largest selling Bordeaux wine. She took over the high profile joint venture between Robert Mondavi and her father, creating Opus One. She played a big part in the design and development of the cathedral like winery. Her own initiatives included expanding the company with joint venture in Chile (with Concha Y Toro), developments in the Languedoc. It was also her decision to produce a white wine, Aile d’Argent, from Mouton’s vineyards.
Philippine had a dramatic childhood living through The Second World War, but she lost her mother who was killed in Ravensbrook Concentration Camp, basically because she was a Rothschild. However, this side of the family, are less involved in Israel and the Jewish community, though they have produced a kosher version of Mouton Cadet for Jews, who observe the Jewish Dietary Laws.
BARON ERIC DE ROTHSCHILD (1940- )
Baron Eric de Rothschild is responsible for Château Lafite Rothschild and Domaines Barons Rothschild (Lafite).
Baron Eric divides his time between running the family bank, managing Lafite and philanthropy to the Jewish community and Israel. His tenure at Lafite started in 1974 and he was instrumental in bringing back the great days of old to this most famous of wineries.
He purchased wineries of the caliber of Château Rieussec in Sauternes and Château L’Évangile in Pomerol to add to Château Duhart Milon. He also created Domaines Barons Rothschild (Lafite) which included joint ventures in Argentina (Caro with Catena), Chile (Los Vasgos), Portugal (Quinta do Carmo.) At one stage, they also had interests in California. The latest ventures are in Italy and the Languedoc.
Baron Eric, a leading lay leader of the French Jewish community, was the driving force behind the new Shoah – Holocaust Memorial in Paris, opened by President Chirac in 2005. As far as Israel is concerned he remains an International Board Member of the Peres Center for Peace and was part of the initiative to build the new Supreme Court Building and the renovations of Yad Vashem, through the family foundation, Yad Hanadiv, which replaced PICA. He has his own initiatives promoting co-existence involving both Israeli Arabs and Bedouin in the Negev.
He is a supporter of Israel wine, once writing: “The pleasure both physical and traditional of drinking wine is so strongly embedded in our Jewish culture, that we must now make every effort possible to enhance the quality of wines in Israel.” He is proud of his great, great grand uncle Edmond’s efforts to found Carmel. He has visited Israeli wine exhibitions, wineries such as Domaine du Castel and shown ongoing interest in the development of Yatir Winery.
BARON BENJAMIN DE ROTHSCHILD (1963- )
Baron Benjamin is owner of Château Clarke and Compagnie Vinicole de Edmond & Benjamin de Rothschild.
Benjamin is the great grandson of the first Edmond, and son of the second. He continues his father’s interests in Israel by chairing the Caesarea Foundation. He maintains his father’s dream by continuing to develop Château Clarke and the nearby Châteaux Peyre-Labade and Malmaison. He continues to produce the kosher wine produced by his father: Barons Rothschild, produced at Château Clarke, but has also added a kosher cuvee of Château Malmaison to his portfolio.
His main wine initiatives have been focused on South Africa and Argentina. In South Africa, he formed a joint venture with industrialist Anton Rupert family to form Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons. His joint venture in Argentina, with Laurent Dassault, is called Flechas des Los Andes.
LORD JACOB ROTHSCHILD (1936- )
Lord Jacob Rothschild is owner of Waddesdon Manor and Chairman of Yad Hanadiv.
He is the leading figure of the English Rothschilds. His contribution to the family’s wine is Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, England, which was bequeathed to the National Trust. Here he maintains a shop and cellar featuring the Rothschild wines, including the joint ventures. It is the only venue in the world which showcases every single one of the family’s wines.
His main contribution to Israel is as Chairman of Yad Hanadiv, the Rothschild Foundation, named after the original Baron Edmond. The foundation focuses on five specific areas in Israel: Education, Environment, Academic Excellence, Civil Society and the Arab Community. Lord Jacob plays an active and ongoing role to ensure the family’s interests in Israel continues.
Concerning his own wine interests, he has a 1/6th ownership share in Château Lafite and is also an investor in the Royal Tokaj Company.
Ironically the main Rothschilds who are active in Israel in the 21st century are Baron Eric de Rothschild from France, Baron Benjamin de Rothschild from Switzerland and Lord Jacob Rothschild from England. Coincidentally, each is a partner in the ownership of Château Lafite. So even today, as was the case 120 years ago, the Lafite Rothschilds have continued their support of Israel and Jewish causes in the same modest, low key way as exemplified by Baron Edmond
In the photos, top to bottom:
Baron Edmond de Rothschild 1845-1934. Founder of Carmel and the modern Israel wine industry. Baron James Jacob de Rothschild 1792-1868. Zichron Ya’acov, the town & winery, are named in his memory. James Rothschild 1878-1957. Donated Rishon Le Zion and Zichron Ya’acov Wineries to S.C.V. des Grandes Caves, Carmel.