Family Guy

In my mind’s eye, I see Jean Baldès, the late paterfamilias and owner of Clos Triguedina, one of the leading estates of Cahors. The women of the family have spent the morning eviscerating ducks and preparing their constituent parts for the winter: confit de canard, duck liver pâté, terrine and for all I know the feathers for pillows and duvets. We sit down for Sunday lunch. As ‘guest of honour’, I am given a duck leg while everyone else gets scraps. Presiding over the table like the godfather, Jean gets the head. His wife and children look on as Jean cracks the thin skull open like a boiled egg, scoops out the brains, and washes it down with a schluck of Clos Triguedina’s Prince Probus .

Like many fathers and sons, Jean and his son Jean-Luc never did see eye to eye. It wasn’t until the autocratic Jean passed away that Jean-Luc was able to emerge from under the thumb of the ogre to blossom as a fine (and happy) winemaker in his own right. Telmo Rodriguez has done very well for himself in Spain but he had to leave Remelluri to avoid the iron fist of his father. Such sad family stories abound but one of the saddest is that of the Mondavis. Robert Mondavi was a huge figure with an ego to match. His two sons Michael and Tim were crushed, the family split, the business was sold off to a corporation, and they were ejected from the prestigious Primum Familiae Vini, numbering, inter alia, Antinori and Torres (Pictured: Jean-Luc Baldès, Clos Triguedina).

In the small microcosm of the winery, it’s a problem if father and son or daughter don’t get on. Fortunately the stories of overbearing fathers and their cowed offspring are the exceptions that prove the rule. Piero Antinori and Miguel Torres are towering figures but the transition to the next generation is proceeding smoothly. In the case of the Catena family of Argentina, Nicolás Catena bestrides the 20th century Argentina like a colossus, yet he and his dynamic daughter Laura are managing the transition with aplomb. There are countless similar examples of positive co-operation, among them Alfred Tesseron and his niece Mélanie Tesseron in Bordeaux, Helmut Dönnhoff and his son Cornelius in Germany (Pictured: Robert Mondavi).

The best evidence for such familial co-operation is seeing the benefits of the two-way process: the older generation’s transfer of knowledge and experience and the young gun’s transmission back of youthful energy, experience of wine school and working overseas. Opportunities to observe this interaction first hand arose during a number of visits to London this summer, of Dave Powell to present the new wines of Powell and Son, of Johann Henschke who was here to present the Henschke range on behalf of the family and of one of Chile’s leading producers, Aurelio Montes SR. and Aurelio Montes Jr. (Pictured: Nicolás and Laura Catena).

The Montes tasting was billed as ‘Like Father, Like Son’ and in the presentation of the Montes wines, Aurelio talked of the influence of, ironically, Robert Mondavi, who encouraged him to examine Chilean terroir and go for quality at the expense of volume. He talked about blends and the synergy that improves the wines and in talking of ‘we’, it became clear that the synergy of father and son was an equally powerful influence in their innovative approach to wine: investing in Argentina with Kaiken, introducing a Cabernet Franc there, an Albariño in Chile, finding old vineyards, searching for new locations (Pictured: Montes Vineyards).

‘The role of the new generation is to bring some refreshment into the range and though I didn’t want to, he convinced me’, said Aurelio Snr. ‘The wine may not be easy to sell, but it’s part of our spirit of innovation. Sometimes you get pissed off but you now you need new blood, even if it’s initially against your will’. A similar process was evident when Dave Powell, at Torbreck for 20 years, came to London to show off the wines of the new family partnership, Powell & Son (Pictured: Aurelio Montes Snr.).

Callum, the son, was back in Oz hard at work, so it was the father doing the talking. As Dave Powell explained, Callum spent a year with Jean-Louis Chave in the Rhône and contributes the benefits of his experience and the fact that he has ‘an educated palate’. According to Powell, ‘There are two sides at work. I have a lot of experience but I can get into a comfort zone, while Callum has a lot of ideas, some not all that practical, but he’s full of enthusiasm and wants to challenge everything I do.  Yes it’s challenging for me to have to explain things but we’ve talked a lot about making the wines fresher with more purity of fruit and so I’ve re-looked at everything I do. He wants to do everything yesterday but basically we see eye to eye on most things’ (Pictured: Dave Powell).

Perhaps it’s easier for Johann Henschke, who with his siblings are natural heirs to one of Australia’s greatest estates. There’s no question of his parents, Stephen and Prue, resting on their laurels but Johann, who, like his parents, studied at Geisenheim, is keen to explore fresh locations and new grape varieties in the context of the family’s heritage. A promising Nebbiolo for instance is already a work-in-progress under his supervision in the Adelaide Hills.. I wouldn’t want to suggest that the corporate giants of wine don’t have an important place in the wine world, but the story of the interaction of generations gives a special dimension that brings the human side of wine into sharp focus (Pictured: Henschke Nebbiolo label; Johann Henschke).

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