All in the Family

Like-minded vintners band together to raise the profile of their wines

IN THE GLOBALIZED world of wine, vintners look for various ways to make their products stand out from the pack. The most successful do this by associating themselves with like-minded producers whom they feel share their corporate values.

The most famous of such ‘clubs’ is international in its reach: Primum Familiae Vini, known as PFV. If you remember your Latin, it means First Families of Wine. Membership is restricted to 12 family-owned wineries. (Could there be an apostolic allusion here?) The group was brought together by Miguel Torres and Joseph Drouhin in 1993.

But, currently, there are only 11 apostles, since the late Robert Mondavi had to retire gracefully when his company was sold in 2004 to Constellation Brands, the world’s largest beer-importing company. Mondavi was no longer a family-owned company, but the price was 1 billion dollars. PFV’s membership today reads like the wine list of a three-star restaurant.

The Australians copied the PFV model in 2009 for Australia’s “First Families of Wine,” created to raise the profile of Australian wines on the international market. Again, there are 12 members: Brown Brothers, Campbells of Rutherglen, D’Arenberg, De Bortoli, Henschke, Howard Park, Jim Barry, McWilliam’s, Tahbilk, Taylors, Tyrrell and Yalumba.

Criteria for membership includes having the ability to do at least a 20-year vertical tasting and having a history that goes back a minimum of two generations (Antinori, one of the 11 PFV members, goes back 26 generations).

Germany has its own elite group of some 200 quality-oriented vintners who are committed to terroir-driven viticulture at the highest level. They call themselves Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates, mercifully abbreviated to VDP).

Spain has recently got in on the clubbable wine concept: Grandes Pagos de España is an association of quality wine producers started in 2000 which now has 29 members throughout the country. The term Pago is equivalent to the French cru or “growth,” in other words, a specified terroir.

Grandes Pagos de España is an association of Spanish wine producers whose mission statement could very well be that of every small, quality-driven grouping of wineries around the world. Their website states that member wineries are dedicated to upholding and promoting very high quality single estate wine and all that is entailed in its production. Our wines faithfully reflect the soils, subsoils and climate from which they hail, each offering an unmistakable personality that can only be drawn from a specific terroir. (For a list of member wineries, see https://grandespagos.com/en/)

My particular favourite association of wineries is in Portugal. They call themselves the Douro Boys, but as their website points out, if we take them too literally, “…first of alltheyre not boys anymorethat’s just for fun. As a matter of facttheyre rather grown-up. And furthermore, the women in their families play a role in the project that’s at least as important as that of the men. But when the Douro is concerned, theyre totally in earnest.” (The average age of the group must be over 60). Together the “Boys” are five wine estates: Quinta do Vallado, Niepoort, Quinta do Crasto, Quinta Vale D. Maria and Quinta do Vale Meão.

Since forming in 2003, they have been working to raise the quality and consumer consciousness of the dry table wines of the Douro Valley and put them on an equal footing with the Douro Valley’s historic fortified wine, port.

And then there is MOVI: the Movement of Independent Vintners in Chile, a modern perspective on Chilean wine whose members provide “a voice, a groove and suffrage for independent vintners who dare to think small … Working together to weave a broader mosaic of Chilean wine, MOVI functions through association, gathering the personalities of each member’s project together.” The “Moviment” (if you’ll pardon the pun) now boasts 33 members.

And what about winery groupings in Canada? Yes, in our two largest wine producing regions there are associations of like-mined, family-run wineries. In Ontario, a group of 12 wineries came together under the banner of “Somewhereness,” a portmanteau which relates to the French term terroir. All make wines with a definite sense of place: 13th Street, Bachelder, Cave Spring, Flat Rock, Hidden Bench, Tawse, Malivoire, Charles Baker, Norman Hardie, Southbrook, Stratus and Domaine Queylus.

And behind the Rockies, a group of seven Okanagan wineries have banned together to market collectively as the Okanagan Wine Initiative: 50th Parallel Estate WineryCulmina Family Estate WineryHaywire WinesLiquidity WinesPainted Rock Estate WineryPoplar Grove Winery, and Summerhill Pyramid Winery.

I suspect that we’ll see a lot more of these winery associations springing up around the world as the competition for the consumer palate heats up and  more and more people get into the winery lifestyle. But my advice is to resist the siren call unless you’ve just won the lottery.

Tony Aspler is the author of 17 books on wine, including his latest, Canadian Wineries.