Château Mouton Rothschild, the illustrious Bordeaux vineyard, has chosen a contemporary Chinese artist to design the label for its 2018 vintage.
The choice of Xu Bing, the third artist from China to create a label for the vineyard in 24 years, is widely understood to underline the importance of the Chinese market to French wine, particularly its most celebrated vineyards.
At first glance the work by Xu, 65, looks like Chinese lettering, but on closer inspection it spells out the words Mouton Rothschild in the Latin alphabet.
Xu told Le Figaro that he had wanted to create a label understood by all connoisseurs. “They are not Chinese characters, but Latin letters that make two false pictograms saying Mouton Rothschild. Everyone will be able to read this label.”
Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild, the joint owner of the vineyard, said: “When I discovered Xu Bing, I was captivated by him as an inventor of signs endowed with incredible poetic power.”
The château has asked artists to design its labels since 1945. In 1969 the task fell to Joan Miró, in 1973 to Pablo Picasso, in 1975 to Andy Warhol, in 1990 to Francis Bacon, in 2006 to Lucian Freud and in 2014 to David Hockney.
The 2004 label was designed by the Prince of Wales, who painted pine trees against a blue sky for a vintage commemorating the centenary of the entente cordiale between Britain and France. In 2008 the label was created by the Chinese painter Xu Lei. The 1996 label was produced by Gu Gan, the Chinese calligrapher and painter. The artists are always paid for their work — with cases of wine.
Xu said that it was an “honor and an homage” to have been chosen for the 2018 label. The vintage was sold to merchants for $492 before it had even been bottled. They hope to make a handsome profit: a 2000 Mouton Rothschild was on sale for $3,673 this week.
China has become by far the biggest market for French wine, importing $691 million worth of bottles last year, compared with $355 million for the US and $314 million for Britain.
Such is the cachet of big name claret in China that several châteaux have been bought up. There is concern, however, about the vogue for renaming the estates with “lucky” monikers: the 300-year-old Château Larteau has become Château Lapin Impérial (Imperial Rabbit). The sign outside features a cuddly-looking rabbit that has alarmed purists.
Adam Sage is a longtime Paris correspondent for The Times of London