‘300 years of sweat alone won’t save Port from obscurity': Symington Family Estates MD

By Lucy Britner & Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

‘300 years of sweat won’t save Port from obscurity': Symington MD
Symington Family Estates joint MD Paul Symington insists it’s no good just talking about the 300 years of sweat that has gone into the firm’s stone terraces, it must adapt a traditional product to the modern world.

In a wide-ranging interview with Lucy Britner recently published in our sister title Harpers Wine & Spirit, Symington discussed his forthcoming speaker’s slot at Wine Vision 2013, November 18-20, London, and said he will ask: “How you adapt an ancient region like ours to the modern world?”

Symington Family Estates owns famous Port brands Warre’s, Dow’s, Cockburn’s and Graham’s, and is the largest vineyard owner in Portugal’s Douro region.

“It’s no good just talking about the 300 years of sweat that has gone into our stone terraces, which are incredible. We have to think about who is and who is not drinking our Port – otherwise we’ll be another fortified wine that disappears into obscurity,”​ Symington warned.

‘Pointless crying into our wine glasses’

Symington will also warn at Wine Vision that some of Portugal’s wine regulations are anachronistic and don’t fit today’s market.

Despite the fact that four to five retailers account for circa. 80% of wine sold in most main markets, he insists “it’s pointless crying into our wine glasses” ​over tough negotiations with these players.

“You either have to become a boutique operator selling a few hundred cases per month or per year or you have to work with these retailers,”​ Symington warns.

He added that he is astounded when people ask him: “Why do you sell to supermarkets?”

“If I didn’t, we would have to lay off at least 80% of our staff and sack more than 90% of our growers,”​ he said.

Saudi sheikhs and fast cars…

On the subject of doing business as a boutique operator, Symington cites the example of luxury car maker Ferrari, which recently cut production numbers to ensure exclusivity.

“The minute a Saudi prince can phone up and get a Ferrari delivered the next day – it’s no longer a dream,”​ he said.

Similarly with wine, Symington insisted that it really matters who it is made by and where, and vital producers cater for that “short moment”​ when someone opens a bottle and thinks about the genealogy of the product.

“This applies to very few other things that people buy for everyday use – where a product is made is not relevant in most cases, as long as it works.”

Nevertheless, Symington insists that, beyond the business of selling romance and lifestyle, a strong dose of realism is also essential.

“We can’t just carry on like we’re in a Disney-like world,”​ he concludes.

Click on the link to learn more about Wine Vision 2013 and to book tickets​.

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