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Matriarch of Rothschild winemaking family dies, aged 80

Philippine de Rothschild in 2005
Press Association

Philippine de Rothschild, a fifth-generation matriarch of the winemaking branch of the European dynasty, has died in Paris, at the age of 80.

De Rothschild had been chairwoman of Baron Philippe de Rothschild for almost three decades and was the first woman to head the Bordeaux winemaker.

She died in Paris on Friday "from the effects of a serious operation", the company said in a statement.

Despite being born into one of the wealthiest family dynasties in Europe, de Rothschild’s childhood was not easy, growing up as a Jewish girl in Second World War Europe.

Born in 1933, de Rothschild was five years old when the war began, and only 10 years old when her mother Elisabeth was deported to Ravensbrueck concentration camp, Germany, where she died in 1945 – the same year the war ended.

De Rothschild’s father, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, who was estranged from her mother, had fled to England during the war after the family business was seized.

The baron, descended from the London branch of the Rothschild family, returned to France at the war’s conclusion to find the family’s vineyard heavily damaged. He restored the looted property and remained chairman of the company until his death, at the age of 85.

De Rothschild initially took a different path to the family business, studying at the Paris Conservatoire National d’Art Dramatique and working as a stage actress until the early 1980s.

As her career in the theatre came to an end, de Rothschild started to take an active role in the business.

In 1981, she curated an exhibition showcasing the master artists who had created labels for the family business’s wine bottles, including Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol.

In 1988, after the death of her father, de Rothschild inherited three Bordeaux winemaking estates and became chair and majority owner of Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Her only sibling, Charles, had died as an infant.

She is credited with modernising the family business’s facilities, extending its product range and making the company more commercially effective.

De Rothschild continued employing artists to create the company’s wine labels, a tradition started by her father, with recent commissions including Lucien Freud and Jeff Koons.

Married twice, de Rothschild is survived by three children, including her son Philippe, who is vice chairman of the company. 

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