Mouton Rothschild: no surprise that Chinese artist was chosen
It did not come as a surprise to anyone in the wine trade when Ch Mouton Rothschild unveiled the artist for the labels of their 2008 vintage as the painter Xu Lei.
The painter Xu Lei (left) and the new label for the 2008 vintage
By Victoria Moore, wine correspondent 2:30PM GMT 30 Nov 2010
"We've been expecting it for about a year and a half," as one merchant told me, long before the news was announced.
The move makes perfect sense. Four years ago it was considered a coup to have the signature of Charles, Prince of Wales on the watercolour of pine trees at Cap d'Antibes used on the 2004 Mouton-Rothschild.
But today even the social clout of the highest echelons of British aristocracy cannot compete with what might excite the Chinese.
The prices for the very best fine wine are now driven by the Asian market, shadowed by Western speculators hoping to sell wine back into Hong Kong.
First growth claret used to be bought and then laid for decades in a temperature controlled cellar as it matured, often being sold several times for profit.
In Asia, it's given to government ministers or businessmen like a handshake, as a respectful gift (and then they drink it, so supply is shortening all the time).
That's why a bottle that reflects Chinese cultural values is valued even more highly – for example, Chateau Beychevelle, a fourth growth claret, has a logo that resembles a Dragon Boat and does very well in China.
The decision to use a Chinese artist now is all about the vintage. Eight is a lucky number for the Chinese: the telephone number 8888-8888 was sold for $270,723 in Chengdu a few years ago, and the opening time of the Beijing Olympics was selected, right down to the second, to contain a pattern of eights. So Mouton-Rothschild have been particularly canny.
The move isn't without precedent. A few weeks ago the price of Lafite-Rothschild shot up after it was announced that the bottles of the 2008 vintage would be etched with the Chinese symbol for the figure eight.
So it's no wonder Berry Brothers' Simon Staples jokes that he's thinking of marketing a wine called 'Eight Pandas.' At least I think he was joking. Maybe it's not such a bad idea.