Decanter magazine has named Paul Symington Man of the Year, but he accepted the award conditionally: “It’s really a family award, which I’m very happy to accept – but only on behalf of everybody.” The magazine´s cover refers to “the man upholding a wine, a region, a legacy” and has chosen Paul because of the company’s extraordinary championship of Port wine and the Douro region. In fact he is the first Decanter Man of the Year from Portugal or the Port trade.
When Paul joined the firm in 1979, in the rather chaotic years after the 1974 revolution, he was a little reluctant – he would have liked to continue his independent career a little longer and compared joining the firm to having to go back to school, but he put his head down and learned all he could. One of his contributions in the early years was a series of reports, both internally and for publication, analysing conditions in the Douro and in the Port and Portuguese wine trade generally. Perhaps it was the research that went into those reports that turned Paul into such a passionate advocate of the Douro and Douro farmers.
The biggest change undertaken by Paul and his generation of Symingtons has been in the company’s relationship to the Douro wine growing region. Whereas prior generations were Port shippers with a relatively small area of Douro vineyards, Paul proudly points out that his generation have become vineyard owners on a substantial scale. The family owns 947 hectares of vineyards – and almost double that area when you count all the non-vineyard land in our 26 quintas. Significantly, many of those quintas are owned privately by family members, not just by “the firm.” In addition, SFE has 8 wineries, most of them small specialist adegas producing the wines for our top Ports, which means our own team is making our wines, whether the grapes come from our own quintas or are bought in from neighbouring farmers.
Like his brother Dominic and cousins Charles, Johnny and Rupert, Paul knows personally not just the firm’s employees in Vila Nova de Gaia and the Douro, but many of the seasonal workers and the farmers who supply us and who are our neighbours across the wine growing region. As a farmer himself at Quinta das Netas who sells his grapes to Symington Family Estates, Paul fully appreciates how tough life is for over 38,000 small farmers in the Douro. Whilst our quinta holdings enable us to produce a very substantial part of the grapes we need to produce Graham’s and all our brands of Port and table wines, we continue to buy in grapes from 1,800 farmers who have supplied us for years, and often for generations.
In accepting this award, Paul and the Symington family are now numbered among some of the wine world’s most distinguished personalities who have been awarded in previous years, including Marchese Piero Antinori, Emile Peynaud, Robert Mondavi, Georg Riedel, Angelo Gaja, Jancis Robinson, Miguel Torres, Christian Moueix, Anthony Barton, Jean-Michel Cazes, Marcel Guigal and last year Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romaine-Conti.
Read more on Decanter’s website, and in the April issue which is on newstands now.