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Blog: Gemma McKenna lunches with Primum Familiae Vini

Published:  10 February, 2012

Gemma McKenna had the pleasure of dining with some of the world's top winemaking families, and trying some legendary wines.

Gemma McKenna had the pleasure of dining with some of the world's top winemaking families, and trying some legendary wines.

It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it. I spent the best part of yesterday afternoon lunching with the Primum Familiae Vini group.

Who's that, you say? The members' list reads like a who's who of the wine world. It was started 20 years ago by Miguel Torres and Robert Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin, and now the roll call includes Pol Roger, Hugel & Fils, Perrin & Fils, Marchesi Antinori, Tenuta San Guido, Vega Sicilia, Château Mouton Rothschild, Egon Müller-Schwarzhof and Symington Family Estates. Robert Mondavi was in it, but had to leave when he sold the winery. There's still room for a 12th member... but it must be unanimously agreed.

The group aims to uphold winemaking traditions, exchange viticultural information, foster environmental responsibility and demonstrate the commitment of family companies to the wine business. But it also makes business sense too, as they help each other out by distributing each other's wines around the world - using Pol Roger and JE Fells (owned by Symington) in the UK or Miguel Torres's Chinese distribution operation (did you know 20% of its staff is now in China?) in Asia, the list goes on...

Although Miguel Torres himself lamented that they had not yet managed to create a strategic alliance by marrying off some younger family members together, the group does share information, and is protective of each member - much in evidence when Baroness Philippine de Rothschild (resplendent in purple) encouraged the younger family members unused with public speaking, with cries of "bravo!" from the floor. Or when the group clapped for the slightly nervous 20-year-old Charlotte Hugel as she introduced her family's incredible 1976 vintage which evoked orange peel, tea leaves and fresh mint.

As this year's president Frédéric Drouhin put it: "Sometimes the younger generation doesn't want to listen to the older one - they believe they can do it better. Within PFV there is a multi-generational exchange. Each family has areas of expertise we're happy to share with others." [You can read more about this in our news story]

Aside from tasting 22 wines from 11 of the world's top winemaking dynasties, it was a real pleasure to watch how the families interact. There is a sense of community, and of looking out for each other. They're all "very proud" of the upcoming generations, which is heartwarming.

Finishing off with a 1963 Symington Port (prune jam and eucalyptus on the finish, yum), Paul Symington admitted that he had nothing to do with making the wine ("I was only 10-years-old"), but said: "This is the sort of wine my generation would like to make."

So there you have it, the leading families in winemaking are as passionate as ever about their wines, and are excited about what's next, and what their children can bring to their firms. They're in it for the long-haul, not to make a quick buck "like some of the big international corporations" (said Frédéric Drouhin). If they keep doing what they're doing now then hopefully people will keep buying, and their businesses will continue to flourish.

Hugh Johnson OBE summed up the appreciation of the assembled journos, but couldn't resist a quick jibe at "some American websites", when he said: "There has been some gross simplification - numerically and in scale of hyperbole that makes me blush to think about it."

"No wine is the greatest. There's always something interesting from another corner of the world to try... that gives us another dimension of pleasure". Spectacular.

What we ate:

Oh, I know you're dying to know what was on the menu at the two Michelin star The Square in Mayfair, so here goes. To start: lasagne of Dorset crab with a cappuccino of shellfish and Champagne foam, followed by a scrumptious loin of monkfish with glazed trotter, savoy cabbage, lentils and red wine; a succulent venison Wellington with baked celeriac and beetroot purée, and the piece de resistance, bitter chocolate pavé with a Seville orange soufflé.

What we drank:
Champagne POL ROGER
Blanc de Blancs 2000
Blanc de Blancs 1988
Maison Joseph DROUHIN
Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche Joseph Drouhin 2008
Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche Joseph Drouhin 1990
Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles "S" 2007
Gewurztraminer Sélection de Grains Nobles 1976
Château de Beaucastel Blanc, Roussane Vieilles Vignes 2009
Château de Beaucastel, 1990
2010 Scharzhofberger Auslese Goldkapsel
1990 Scharzhofberger Trockenbeerenauslese

Solaia 2008
Solaia 2001
Sassicaia 2006
Sassicaia 1996 (in magnum)
Mas La Plana 2007
Mas La Plana 1982
Vega Sicilia Único 2004
Vega Sicilia Único 1953
Château Mouton Rothschild 2000
Château Mouton Rothschild 1961
Graham's 2007 Vintage Port
Graham's 1963 Vintage Port