Back in October, some of the top wine producers in Europe came to New York City to speak about the importance of the Primum Familiae Vini (Leading Wine Families) that only included 12 different family wineries that were highly respected and shared the same values of passing on that business to the next generation. One of the members, Marc Perrin, representing the Perrin family who owns Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley, France, said “The idea of Primum is to defend family companies as 85% of family businesses do not make it to the second generation and here you have some families making wine in the same winery, the same parcel, for 26 generations such as the Antinori family.” Marc continued to describe the difficulties of such a mission, “This is really tough nowadays as the price of the land is going up, there is a huge collection of wine around the world and it is difficult to make a decent revenue from vineyards especially when you lose 80% of your crop which happened to us last year.”
The struggle of keeping a multi-generational business alive was poignantly expressed by Jean Frédéric Hugel, representing the Hugel family in Alsace, France, when he described the day he said to his father he wanted to join the business, “My father came to me and said, ‘Are you sure, are you absolutely sure?’ And he had me say yes three or four times because he knew how demanding, how difficult, how passionate you need to be to be successful during the hard times. And I was very unfortunate to lose my dad three years ago and I don’t know if he thought of that moment when he asked me about surviving the most difficult times.”
Primum Familiae Vini
The Primum Familiae Vini (PFV) group was started by Robert Drouhin (Maison Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy, France) and Miguel Torres (Familia Torres in Catalonia, Spain) in 1992 after realizing that both men shared the common goals of making great wine rooted in tradition and family that had the same concerns for the future of their businesses. Robert and Miguel expanded this group to other family wineries throughout Europe that help each other with the unique challenges such businesses face today.
Frédéric Drouhin (Robert’s son) said that he could have never imagined 30 years ago being in New York City with some of the greatest wine producers in the world
showing his family’s wines. He reminisced first walking into a PFV meeting back in 1992 when he was just a young man and the overwhelming feeling of every one in the group wanting to share knowledge, experience and ideas. “They opened their homes, their hearts and many great bottles of wine which was quite nice. To me this is the soul of the PFV sharing knowledge, educating the next generation, telling the world that we care about our workers and our vineyards as we have to be a role model to the world”, Frédéric exclaimed passionately.
Miguel Torres Maczassek (Miguel Torres’ son) noted that at the time of that first meeting he was the youngest person in the room and admitted that he was more interested in motorcycles than wine but was taken aback by the generosity of the group by noting, “I have met people who have become friends for life and people who have helped us as a family by teaching us and I have to say thank you to all the families in this group for being such good friends.”
If there is anyone who can appreciate the deep importance of forming an alliance with people outside his own country it is Miguel Torres Maczassek’s father, Miguel Torres. During Franco’s rule in Spain that started in 1936, many people in Catalonia had their businesses destroyed, their property taken away and some were imprisoned and even killed as they were used as scapegoats for Spain’s problems. Miguel Torres’ father (Miguel Torres Maczassek’s grandfather) was one of those victims who had everything taken away and spent time as a prisoner who committed no crime other than being from Catalonia. The rest of Europe and the U.S. were too busy recovering from the Second World War and so Franco stayed in power until 1975 with still many of the people in Catalonia fearful of speaking out about these atrocities until recently. This was part of the reason why Miguel Torres knew it was important to travel around the world introducing the Torres wines to export markets because if he only sold in Spain there was always the threat that everything would be taken away but if the world knew about him and his family’s winery, then he and his family were less likely to be in danger. And so an international group such as the PFV can be vital especially for those living in countries where there is an unstable government.
As mentioned before, the collaboration of these families are rooted in core values yet each one benefits from their differences such as some representing the 26th generation like Antinori in Tuscany (founded in 1385 – one of the oldest continually run family wineries) compared to the 4th generation of Domaine Clarence Dillon that owns Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion in Bordeaux, yet their commitment is no less as family member Robert de Luxembourg stated that they started out as a family of bankers that left the finance world and it is the wineries that have lasted; some that have fought to sustain tradition against all odds, such as Marc Perrin’s grandfather, keeping Mourvèdre grape vines for their Château de Beaucastel despite it being unpopular compared to others who created a tradition such as Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta’s grandfather dealing with family and friends first making fun of him for planting Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in Bolgheri, Tuscany, to produce a wine, Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia, that would start a new tradition of Super Tuscans and Tempos Vega Sicilia’s Único that is made of majority Tempranillo with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon in Ribera del Duero, Spain; and the producers range in size as well with Paul Symington of the Symington Family Estates stating that Egon Müller IV, Weingut Egon Müller, production coming from the Mosel of Germany was so small “we drink most of it in the PFV.”
Paul Symington emphasized the feeling of an extended family within the PFV group with a quote from the legendary Philippine Rothschild of Mouton Rothschild, “None of us need to be members of the PFV but we want to be part of the PFV and we like it.” Paul continuing by expressing, “We are all immensely busy but it is important for us to come together for our annual conference and our one big event a year which is today; we like each other a lot and our kids all work in each others wineries and we learn a hell of a lot from each other.” Paul also noted that Maximilien de Billy, known to Paul as Max, worked for the Symington family for six months and he is the next generation of Champagne Pol Roger, one of the few Grande Marque Champagne houses that remains family owned and operated.
Philippe Sereys de Rothschild of Baron Philippe de Rothschild (Mouton Rothschild) discussed surviving as a family business after his iconic grandfather Philippe passed and certainly when his mother Philippine left this earth in 2014; Paul Symington still speaking Philippine’s words made it evident how much her presence meant to the group and how they supported each other in tough times. And Robert de Luxembourg of Domaine Clarence Dillon talked about how comforted he was hearing from everyone in the group about the recent passing of his long time winemaker of Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion, Jean-Bernard Delmas, who was not only born at Haut-Brion since his father worked there, but he passed the torch to his son Jean-Philippe Delmas who is currently estate manager.
Serving the Community
Many of the producers talked about the idea of not only sustaining a business for their families’ well-being but the idea of protecting the environment, creating a harmonious working environment so that not only workers will stay but their children will come on-board, not only giving back to their local communities but to those around the world. Later that night, they held a gala dinner and wine auction at Le Bernardin with guests auctioning two custom-crafted wooden cases of 12 rare bottles of wine that raised a total of $170,000 for No Kid Hungry and this PFV donation will provide 1.7 million meals to those in need. Paul Symington noted that the winning bidders would each be given a passport to allow them to visit everyone of the PFV members at one of their wineries for a nice meal.
That Which Lasts
The last wine presented by Rupert Symington and his son Hugh was a great example of the struggle of a family business to fight for those things that last: 1966 Dow’s Vintage Port. Rupert’s father James was the fourth member of the PFV and made this 1966 and Rupert stressed that it was sort of like the Wild West in Portugal during those times, “My father was only 32 when he made this 1966, not much older than Hugh today, but back then the Douro was a very different place and I classify 66 as one of the last old Douro vintages” Rupert continued “Typically wines back in those days were made in remote farms without electricity and the places outside of the main towns in the Douro Valley only received electricity in the 1970s so these wines were made by candlelight and gaslight. Although Dow’s had modernized its winemaking facilities in 1964 it is conceivable that some of this wine was made in the new winery but most of it was made in extraordinarily remote conditions in the eastern Douro.”
Rupert noted that the 1960s were also part of a couple of tough post-World War II decades that forced the Symington family to sell off some of their prized estates and assets to stay afloat and James Symington did not take a salary for many years. Rupert’s story illustrated that every one of these family members knows there are going to be ups and downs with sacrifices having to be made during the bad times to sustain the family legacy and their values and ethics that are rooted in the family business as well as keeping a tradition such as Port wines alive, which was beautifully displayed by the deliciously pristine glass of the 1966 Dow’s Vintage Port.
Paul Symington summarized it best by saying, “The world is going through so many changes and there is so much turmoil and questioning of people’s values and we as a group want to be a good example to the people around us, to our workers and to our environment.” As a group, the PFV members can support each other even during times when it feels as if the world is pulling itself apart to not only help sustain their families’ legacies but to be the examples that many desperately need to see right now in this tumultuous world.
2002 Champagne Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill: Ripe apples with a hint of orange rind and fresh brioche with a touch of chalky minerality; rich, complex and long broad finish.
2011 Joseph Drouhin Marquis de Laguiche Montrachet Grand Cru: Beautifully spicy with lemon custard flavors, layers of wet stones and an overall ethereal quality.
2009 Château La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc: Lush mid-palate and lanolin with honeysuckle notes that was still bright with a zesty length.
2007 Famille Hugel Riesling Schoelhammer: Smoky minerality with juicy white peach flavors and a lovely salinity on the finish.
2016 Marchesi Antinori Solaia: A great vintage for Solaia that was displayed in its exquisitely chiseled tannins and ripe black fruit flavors that were intermixed with crumbly earth that was big yet elegant.
2016 Familia Torres Mas de la Rosa Vinyes Velles: A Priorat with lots of finesse that had fine tannins with bright black cherries and hints of wild scrub and exotic spice.
2009 Tenuta de San Guido Sassicaia: Dark brooding fruit that was powerful with enticing notes of fresh leather and truffle that had round, inviting tannins.
2006 Le Petit Mouton de Mouton Rothschild: Pretty red fruit flavors that were elevated by notes of graphite and tobacco leaf.
2001 Château Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin: Tantalizing aroma of bacon fat with fresh rosemary and blackberry jam that was balanced by firm structure.
1996 Vega-Sicilia Único: A stunningly linear wine that had great energy and focus that was fleshed out with wild black and red fruit and smoky notes of Lapsang Souchong tea that had elegance and opulence all in one.
2011 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese: Orange marmalade and peach pie with drizzled honey and lemon confit that had its sweetness perfectly balanced by fierce acidity and a saline mineraltiy.
1966 Dow’s Vintage Port: A big, formidable Port that had endless layers of aromas and flavors such as figs, grilled chestnuts, fruitcake and chocolate covered cherries that, despite its power, begged for another sip as its complexity seemed never ending.