Among the corporate huts and hospitality suites that clog the visitors' village at the Gleneagles golf club, home of the 2014 Ryder Cup, one name stands out. It is Mouton Cadet, the illustrious Bordeaux label created in 1930 by Baron Philippe de Rothschild.
It stands out because the Rothschild wine-making dynasty is famously discreet and subtle. Other than the Cannes film festival, it tends to avoid big international events, and certainly sporting events, where the crowds can be large, loud and loutish.
All that changed three years ago when Mouton Cadet, known within the company as the "younger brother" of Château Mouton Rothschild, regarded as one of the world's greatest clarets, formed a partnership with the European golf tour. That, in turn, led to the sponsorship of the much larger Ryder Cup, whose three-day competition starts Friday morning.
While the owners and managers of the parent company, Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, insist that no other sporting event will be associated with Mouton Cadet, the Ryder Cup does mark a turning point in the winemaker's strategy.
It is recognition that a planet full of wealthy consumers has a lot of choice in the luxury market, from sports cars to yachts, and that brands cannot rest on their laurels; they have to be nurtured, but ever so carefully.
"You know that if you don't make your brand live, it will one day disappear," Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild, co-owner of Château Mouton Rothschild, said on Thursday in Mouton Cadet's hospitality suite at Gleneagles.
Julien, 43, is the younger son of Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, the matriarch of the wealthy family of winemakers who died last month at age 80, and cousins of the British investment banking strand of the family, whose prominent members include Jacob Rothschild, the fourth baron Rothschild.
Philippine became the head of the family company and the chatelaine of the winery in 1988, when her father, Baron Philippe, died (her aristocratic Catholic mother, Élisabeth Pelletier de Chambure, became the only member of the Rothschild family to die in a German concentration camp in the Second World War).
Baroness Philippine remained firm control of the company until she passed away, though had the good sense to bring professional outside managers, and approved of Mouton Cadet's foray into the golfing world – even if the idea was met with skepticism at first. "We are not golf players," Julien said. "We said no, then we said yes."
It's not entirely true that sports in general, and golf in particular, were alien to the Rothschild culture. Hugues Lechanoine, the non-Rothschild who is managing director of the parent company, does indeed like golf and saw an opportunity. Until a few years ago, Mouton Cadet was losing market share in New World, that is, non-European, markets as quality wines from Australia, South Africa, United States and elsewhere came on strong. Attaching the Mouton Cadet brand name to a big-name international event might give the Mouton Cadet label a boost, he reasoned.
But why golf? To Julien and Mr. Lechanoine, international golf is the perfect blend between the popular and the upscale, but not too upscale, just like Mouton Cadet itself. "Golf is between polo and rugby," Mr. Lechanoine said. "There is both an elegance and an accessibility to the sport, popular but chic."
The decision was made and Mr. Lechanoine arranged a meeting with Paul McGinley, the Irishman who is captain of the Ryder Cup's European squad. The sponsorship deal, whose financial details are private, included the launch of a unique Mouton Cadet red that is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Only 7,000 cases were made and the bottles carry the Ryder Cup logo. The wine is being served at the thousands of lunches at Gleneagles.
Both Julien and Mr. Lechanoine admit that judging the success of the link with the Ryder Cup will be hard to measure in the near term. But the Rothshilds don't plan for the near term. The partnership with the Ryder Cup goes through 2018 and could be extended. "This [golf association] is long term and the Rothschilds think long term," Mr. Lechanoine said.