The Other Rothschilds of Wine

When Baron Benjamin de Rothschild died of a heart attack at his home in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jan. 15, 2021, at age 57, he left behind a business empire in banking, sports and wine that was worth billions of dollars. He also left behind a wife and four adult daughters, and in the two years since, they have been moving that empire forward. They may be the least-known branch of the Rothschild family in the wine world, but they are making a mark.

Ariane de Rothschild, Benjamin’s widow, has been a leading player at the sprawling Edmond de Rothschild Group for many years. Charismatic and plain-spoken, as passionate about fine wine and philanthropy as she is about handing off her late husband’s financial empire to the next generation, Ariane’s ambition for their stable of wineries is evident.

Her latest move is to expand into New Zealand, recently acquiring Akarua, a Pinot Noir-focused estate in Central Otago. “We are very much premium wines of the world: South Africa, Argentina, Spain, France,” says Alexis de La Palme, chairman of Edmond de Rothschild Heritage (EdRH). “But we didn’t have any Pinot Noir.”

They rectified that situation with 87 acres of vines in Central Otago, purchased from the Skeggs family. The Rothschild team says the Akurua terroir is exceptional. “We think that it might be the second best premium terroir for Pinot Noir, after Burgundy,” says Boris Breau, managing director of EdRH wineries.

Ariane de Rothschild, 57, first took over the family’s non-financial ventures and philanthropy soon after marrying Benjamin in 1999 and ran them while raising their four daughters: Noémie, Alice, Eve and Olivia. She had already built a successful career in banking. A polyglot, she grew up in different parts of the world—San Salvador, Bangladesh, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo—thanks to her German father’s career in pharmaceuticals. After earning an MBA at Pace University, she worked for finance giant AIG in New York and then Paris. There she met Benjamin, an AIG client.

[article-img-container][src=2023-07/ns_akarua073123_1600.jpg] [credit= (Courtesy Edmond de Rothschild Heritage)] [alt= Aerial view of Akarua vineyards][end: article-img-container]

Benjamin’s branch of the Rothschild family descends from James de Rothschild, one of German banker Mayer Amschel Rothschild’s five sons. Each of the sons set up banking operations in different countries during the 19th century. James established the Paris branch and bought Château Lafite in 1868. (His brother Nathan’s London-based branch had already acquired Château Mouton-Rothschild in 1853.) James had three sons, and Lafite Rothschild’s shares are now spread over five branches of his descendants. Benjamin inherited one-sixth of the winery, which is managed by his distant cousin Saskia.

Benjamin’s father, Edmond, started his own wine ventures when he purchased Château Clarke in the Haut-Médoc in 1973. He bought the neighboring Château Malmaison a few years later. Benjamin built on that, launching projects in Spain and South Africa. He also grew the family banking business—today it manages $180 billion in assets—and expanded into luxury hotels and a sailing team.

At first, Ariane de Rothschild was not an obvious fit for the conservative world of Geneva finance, but with persistence and intelligence, she has carved out a substantial role for herself. In 2015, she was named CEO of Edmond de Rothschild Group, the first woman to run a Rothschild financial institution. In 2021, upon the death of her husband, she inherited the chairmanship. In 2023, she took over operations of their Swiss-French financial division. She famously informed the male-dominated group back in 2015 that they had “better get used to having a woman running the business,…

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The Other Rothschilds of Wine The Other Rothschilds of Wine *The Other Rothschilds of Wine