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The First Families of Wine  (September 25, 2003)

 
  The Torres family

Thirteen years ago, Miguel Torres, the great Spanish winemaker, sat down in Beaune with his friend Robert Drouhin, the leading Burgundy shipper, to discuss their mutual concerns about the international wine business. During their conversation they found themselves in harmony over their philosophy of wine and the problems facing family businesses. The wine world, they believed, was becoming too corporate as more and more of the banner names were being swallowed up in acquisitions by banks and insurance companies.

They brainstormed the idea of creating an association of the top family winemakers around the world.

They invited like-minded family-owned wineries of repute to join them under the Latin banner "Primum Familiae Vini" – the First Families of Wines. The twelve original members were Torres, Drouhin, Hugel from Alsace, Pol Roger (Champagne), Bruno Prats of Cos d'Estournel (Bordeaux), Baroness Philippine de Rothschild (Bordeaux), Jaboulet (Rhône), the Alvarez family, owners of Vega Sicilia (Ribera del Duero, Spain), the Symington family (Port and Madeira), Egon Müller-Schartzhof (Saar, Germany), the Antinori family (Tuscany) and the sole New World property, Robert Mondavi (Napa Valley, California).

The inaugural meeting of the PFV was held in 1994 at Hugel's winery in the historic town of Riquewihr, Alsace. "We chose twelve," recounts Michael Mondavi in an interview with Wine Tidings magazine, "because there are twelve bottles in a case of wine and when you get more families than that together it could be hard to get a charter."

The first rule of the association is that the winery has to be completely in family hands, so when Bruno Prats sold Cos d'Estournel he had to relinquish his membership in this elite club.

 
  Egon Müller-Schartzhof

"The PFV was born of our desire to keep our companies in family hands," says Miguel Torres. "Now after all these years we are proud to see that our common goal created on a summer afternoon in Beaune with Robert Drouhin has become a reality. We love to share our experiences with all the members of the PFV family."

And not only an exchange of ideas; many of the members share importing agencies around the world and gather frequently to promote themselves as a critical mass. They share research as well as the values of tradition and the quest for quality.

"We have the rare luxury of working for our passion," says Etienne Hugel, "with no other shareholders to please than ourselves. My great-grandfather used to advise his sons, 'Run your business so that when you meet your banker he has to greet you more cordially that you need to greet him."

Every year the members of the PFV meet in one country. To mark its tenth anniversary in May 2002, they organized a series of gala dinners in Bangkok, Singapore, Shanghai and Tokyo at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. At these dinners they auction off a mahogany case containing one bottle of each member's flagship wine for a local charity. If you're curious as to what's inside, here's the line-up of the most exclusive case of wine you can get:

MARCHESI ANTINORI : Tignanello
JOSEPH DROUHIN : Beaune Clos de Mouches Blanc
HUGEL ET FILS : Gewurztraminer Selection de Gains Nobles
PAUL JABOULET AÎNÉ : Hermitage la Chapelle
ROBERT MONDAVI : Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
CHÂTEAU MOUTON-ROTHSCHILD : Château Mouton Rothschild
EGON MÜLLER-SCHARZHOF : Scharzhofberger Auslese
POL ROGER : Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill
SYMINGTON PORT & MADEIRA : Graham's Vintage
TORRES : Gran Coronas Mas La Plana
VEGA SICILIA : Vega Sicilia Unico

The first such cases were presented to the King of Spain in 1995 and to the King of Sweden in 1999. But you don't have to be royalty to get in on the act, although it helps. The PFV issue passports, very sparingly, to wine lovers around the world. If you are lucky enough to acquire one – and you have the means to travel to each of the member wineries – once you have completed the circuit you will be presented with a case.

The first wine lover to achieve this goal was a Swiss, Manfred Wagner, followed by two Toronto couples – Arlene and Michael Willis and Sam and Esther Sarick.

Like the Primum Familiae Vini, the passport holders who have traveled to each member winery are an elite group.

 

 

 

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