Primum Familiae Vini: Wine Aristocracy

Hidden Elite Club

Building on Avenue Franklin Roosevelt

This impressive building is one of those French call "hôtel particulier". Located от 31, Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt this refined mansion was built in 1884 and its facade reflects this gorgeous epoche - all styles can be found here, from Neo-Gothic to Renaissance to Louis XV. Its first two floors, with large balconies and ornate windows assigned for its owners, while upper ones, more discreet in its decoration, are inhabited my servants.

An immense cellar in the basement is one of its owners' pride. There're parks and museums in the surrounding area, some three-star restaurants can also be found easily.  The traffic is slow here and passers-by feel a little scared walking by. 

The mansion is known as Hotel Clarence Dillon.  Its owner is Prince Robert of Nassau, cousin of the sovereigns of Luxembourg. Tall, big, dressed as a Bavarian landowner, with a smile on his face, British accent and a glass of champagne in his hand Prince Robert's demeanor reminds of an ancient monarch but it is well known that he handles business issues with the fierceness of a Wall Street shark. 
Since 1935 his family owns Château Haut-Brion, one of the most expensive, magical and mythical Bordeaux wines. Founded 1525 Château Haut-Brion might well be the oldest luxury brand in history. 

El príncipe Roberto de Luxemburgo

Tonight Prince Robert is hosting his guests. Beautiful Tayllerand and Pontac Dining Rooms are ready for them. The fire crackles in the fireplaces, huge ice chests cool the champagne. The best vintages of Haut-Brion have risen from the cellar. A large circular marble staircase shines like a mirror. The carpets are fluffy like a golf green. The silent servants wear black. The cooks prepare the duck and the foie under the direction of two Michelin stars chef Christophe Pelé.

The quests invited are not publicly known, but totally their wineries have more than 2500 years of traditions and experience. They are great luxury brands, the aristocracy of wine. In addition to glamor and legends, they also offer many benefits to their shareholders. Luxury offers the highest yelds in the market. All businesses are family-run and are very old. The Italian Antinori goes back to the 15th, Haut-Brion - to the 16th, the Alsatian Hugel & Fils - to 17th. The youngest member, Famille Perrin from the Rhone Valley, is 110 years old.

The quality of their wines is the highest in the market. Their production is handmade, it always has a certain element of mystery and alchemy. These wines are very precious, a bit scarce and not easy to obtain. Many know them but few had a chance to taste. Along with satisfaction and unique experience they suggest a social prestige and a status.

 

The Club

 

Although they are born in terroirs in the depths of old Europe, they all are international brands and distributed throughout the planet. Behind these wines, there are innovations, creativity, respect for the environment and respect for people. As Hubert de Billy, the owner of Churchill's favorite Pol Roger champagne, whose family owns the vineyards since 1849, says, "we represent the human and living side of the business - the side of values, inheritance and respect for the environment".

Pablo Álvarez, a patron and a soul of the Vega Sicilia, the only Spain luxury winery, adds: "In the world of great wine, the time has another meaning - you can not be in a hurry here. For us, patience, purity, authenticity and slow work are a must".


Tonight's meeting is not at all usual - an initiation ceremony will be held here. Prince Roberto is going to enter this club for selected.  According to its rules, it may only have 12 members - the number similar to the number of bottles in the box.  When a vacancy is caused, it may take years to fill it. The decision has to be unanimous - any black ball means a rejection. For this vacancy, the members had a hard choice between the two candidates, Château Haut-Brion and Château Pétrus. 


"Not only does it have to be an important brand. It also has to offer something in terms of prestige and innovation", explains Pablo Álvarez. 
"I think that in future we should also have an American member, as it happened with Mondavi, until the family decided to sell the winery to the Constellation brands in 2004".

Pablo Álvarez

To enter the club, a candidate must have the highest prestige and reputation globally, be a centenarian, but first of all, must have its own vineyards. At least 51% of shares must be in the hands of the family. As Pablo Álvarez says - "it must be the family itself that sets its business philosophy". When a member of the Club decides to go public or sells the winery to other businesses so that the control over major production strategy is lost, he is asked to leave the Club. This happened three times during the last 25 years - with Mondavi, Paul Jaboulet and Cos d'Estournel. 

Then the Club starts to look for a new member. It is never done in a rush, a decade may pass before the new candidate is found.


This club of wine aristocrats is called Primum Familiae Vini (PFV). They don't call themselves 'a lobby'or 'an association', but rather 'a group of old friends'. 

Who are they?


Joseph Drouhin, Torres Family, Marchesi Antinori, Tempos Vega Sicilia, Pol Roger, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Egon Muller Scharzhof, Famille Hugel, Famille Perrin, Tenuta San Guido, Symington Family Estates. And  since today  - Domaine Clarence Dillon.


Miguel Torres Maczassek who took over the Catalan wine business in 2012 talks about the days Primum Familiae Vini club was born. 

"In 1991, my father, Miguel A. Torres, was visiting Robert Drouhin in Burgundy.

They went for a walk in the vineyards of the Clos des Mouches, in Beaune, and were exchanging their mutual concerns regarding the future of wine. Not only the agricultural and commercial aspects, but mostly the philosophy and traditions.

Out of this talk the idea to create a club of wine families came out. 

Miguel Torres Maczassek

They decided that the club's mission was going to be to look forward, to discuss problems, to exchange information and knowledge and to collaborate in international distribution.  It was then when they decided to limit the membership with 12 members. 
 PFV was registered in 1993, by 1995 they had three new members - Pol Roger, Vega Sicilia and Mouton Rothschild arrived. The level could not be higher: the champagne of the kings, the best Spanish wine in history and a premier grand cru classé chateau.

The Grand Salon of Prince Roberto's palace was decorated with green damask, crystal chandeliers and upholstered armchairs in burgundy velvet. The guests form a very curious group, very dapper and disparate. There're only three women among them - the Italians Albiera Antinori and Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta, and the German Valeska Müller. It was an unaccompanied event, ceremonial, but working dinner. Pol Roger champagne was served for an aperitif - exactly the same label that was served at the Royal weddings of Prince William with Kate Middleton, and Prince Harry with Meghan Markle. 

Its owner, Hubert de Billy, dressed in a sophisticated tailored mao suit with finely embroidered initials on the cuff of his shirt, is now the new president of PFV, the duty which rotates every year.


 "We are against uncontrolled growth. Here and there lots of champagne brands have preferred fast money to traditional values, they are now owned by large industrial groups. We look at this with deep regret. 

Hubert de Billy

Just look what happened to once respectable family wineries Codorniu and Freixenet... As for us - funds and big companies offer us hundreds of millions every day, but my answer is no".


- Can you call PFV a lobby?


- This word has a sort of negative connotations. We are rather a think tank, a group of friends. We meet to analyze our work, from the vineyard to the distribution. We share experiences, join forces to distribute and sell in other countries. We also a base for our children to learn the business - our own, our partners. we're the best in the world and it's a great school they may have. We also realize that Primum Familiae Vini has a  problem - we've been too elegant, discreet, decadent, closed, a little dormant. We have to change that. First of all we need to make us known in the world, extend our values and priorities of the highest quality. 


One of the members describes this club as a rococo piece of furniture, "elegant and decorative, but stopped in time". Indeed, it was true until Pablo Álvarez, the master of Vega Sicilia, started to take steps to change it. Members of PFV define Pablo Álvarez as someone who does not talk much but has very clear ideas. Who is gentle but aggressive in business, who does not speak loudly, but is able to say the right things no matter whether he speaks to Rothschilds or someone else.


Álvarez recalls his email he sent members in November 2017. "It was almost an ultimatum. I was very angry, I told them that elegance is great, but it had no future and that we couldn't build it based on 25-year-old ideas.


- Did it work?


- Everybody told me I was right. So we set then an executive committee, miscellaneous working groups. We decided that we should work closely with our export directors, travel together around the world and become a group of real influence. One of such steps was the invite we have sent to  Prince Roberto who's  Haut-Brion is one of the most legendary wine in history. 


There are no other clubs like this one, and we have to be more active in promoting our values.

Translated from original source  in El Pais 'Las 12 familias más poderosas del negocio del vino'

Find the information about great wines, gastronomy combination cards and how to best pair the wines and food in Winester Gourmet Library

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