The 44-year-old surgeon has four children between the ages 6 and 14, and doesn’t mind being addressed either as Princess or Mrs. Löwenstein. She runs a 400-year-old family business that includes winemaking, forestry and real estate. Mrs. Löwenstein has settled into her new role, which was thrust upon her after her husband, Carl Friedrich Prince zu Löwenstein, died in 2010 at the age of 43 while racing cars at Germany’s Nürburgring track. A portrait of him hangs on the wall in the palace, located 30 kilometers south of Aschaffenburg along the banks of the Main River.
Handelsblatt: Your Serene Highness, you trained to become a surgeon but had to take over the family business without any preparations. Were there any special arrangements?
Princess zu Löwenstein: Yes, in the event that something unexpected happened, we had a backup plan.
And then came the terrible news about your husband’s accident …
…just as I was about to launch my career as a surgeon. For the children and me, his death was a terrible tragedy. In a situation like this, it was good that the succession was clear. The firstborn (son) would inherit the family business and I would run it in the meantime.
This sort of succession would appear to follow aristocratic tradition. Is that still the modern way of managing it?
You are absolutely correct. And perhaps someday my son would rather become pope and I would naturally let him do that. But in such a tragic moment, it is helpful and comforting to know there is a clearly formulated bequest. By the way, common law has long taken precedence over family tradition, so the younger generation can seek legal recourse against all such decisions.
I am very creative and innovative, which possibly compensates for any lacking talent.
With all due respect to your creativity and wisdom, didn’t it occur to Prince Löwenstein, your father-in-law who is a banker, to take over the family businesses during this period?
The prince was in the middle of his career at the time and wanted to work another 10 years at least. He knew our finances were in order and had already handed over the business to his son in 2003 to pursue a career in finance. So I don’t believe he considered coming back for a second.
Would you say that you have entrepreneurial talent?
I am very creative and innovative, which possibly compensates for any lacking talent. And I am a scientist, with a very rational, disciplined and structured approach.
You come from an entrepreneurial aristocratic family yourself…
…yes, but because I was second born and female, I was never in line to take over the business.
Real estate, winemaking and forestry are the three most important sectors you are currently involved in and certainly require some expertise. How did you get up to speed?
Listening, asking questions, also dumb ones, delegating authority and showing an interest in the business and sometimes delving into details.
Can you give an example?
I asked a stupid question: I wanted to know if a white-wine vineyard could also be planted with red-wine grapes. You can imagine the reaction. The experience was painful. But you have to be able to deal with that and learn from it.
Alongside wine, wood is a key business, right?
Not alongside, but actually first and foremost. We are well positioned at a European level, and operate according to high sustainable standards. We have plenty of deciduous trees and conifers. The price for wood has developed nicely.
Given the complexity of your duties, how often do you seek the counsel of your father-in-law?
His experience in the lumber business is invaluable. He closely observed the rise of environmental protection measures in the 1970s. These days, environmental protection dictates whether or not we can cut down a tree in our own private forest. That is a total intrusion into our rights as property owners. Perhaps we need to take some legal action, but I’m not aggressive enough in that regard.
I assume the wine business is even harder to control.
Making wine accounts for 10 percent of our activities, but it demands 70 percent of my attention. Lumber is a responsibility; wine is a passion, which can be brutal. It is not objective but emotional.
So you had to start from scratch in the wine business?
Fortunately, my husband restructured the business. He closed two smaller vineyards and consolidated everything into our operations at Keinheubach. The new course was set but he didn’t live to see it happen. Although he showed me the path, he wasn’t able to give me the knowledge to navigate it. I must admit it is a cunning, brash business.
In what way?
The envy factor plays a large role. We have one of the best locations in Franconia, most experts will agree. That creates covetous feelings that can sometimes be noxious.
Yes, it is a noxious business. Right after my husband’s death, wine dealers had already showed up at the front door claiming he had promised them excellent land in exchange for greater sales. When I asked for written documentation, they told me it was a verbal agreement. What they didn’t know was that my husband kept a business diary in which he documented which dealer wanted to get their hands on some land.
What is your goal for the vineyard?
There are 200 quality vineyards in Germany. For white wine, we are ranked around 50. My goal is to be in the top 10.
You have a great location. Why aren’t you already ranked higher?
The problem is Silvaner, which is traditionally planted here in Franconia; many consider only Riesling appropriate for white wine. That is why we only offer Silvaner as a Franconian speciality and Riesling as an international product. The first reviews of our Riesling are encouraging.
You must be excited about that?
Yes, but it is a true challenge. Consumers are spending less and it is difficult to sell something as an aristocrat because everybody thinks the nobility is rich and doesn’t need any more. And then as a woman…
…in a business dominated by men…
…it is twice as hard. I have already learned that sometimes you have to smash through barriers with your head.