Vineyards have been passed down from parent to child for hundreds of years. They are, after all, the family farms of grape-growing regions. Although corporatization has meant that family-run wineries face greater competition, they still offer unique benefits.
FAMILY VALUES At a family winery, there's a sense of rootedness in a place, a feeling of personal involvement that a company with far-flung shareholders can't offer. There is also the accountability that comes with having your name on the bottle. And there is the incalculable benefit of experience. As Alsace winemaker Étienne Hugel of Hugel & Fils puts it, "I have had almost 20 years of 'training,' working closely with the older generations of my family, not to mention my whole upbringing in this environment. In many corporations, a new director may only arrive in time to see his predecessor cleaning out his desk."
FAMOUS FAMILIES In 1993 a group of the world's most prestigious family-owned wineries got together to share their expertise and their own various brands of family values. Calling themselves, with clunky Latin grandeur, Primum Familiae Vini (PFV), these 11 "first families" are impressive standard-bearers in the world of wine. One of Italy's oldest wine families, Antinori, makes very modern wines.
11 TOP BOTTLES
1999 Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico ($22) Antinori has been making wine since 1385, yet turns out very modern, fruity bottles of Chianti--like this.
Cossart Gordon 10-Year-Old Bual Madeira ($33) From the Symington family, which also owns Dow's and Graham's ports, comes this creamy Madeira with notes of honey and smoke.
1998 Domaine Drouhin Laurène Pinot Noir ($38) Burgundy producer Drouhin turns out a big, ripe Oregon Pinot that wouldn't be mistaken for a French wine but has an elegance all its own.
2000 Egon Müller Scharzhof Riesling ($19) This wine, from a 200-year-old family estate, has a deliciously filled-in style, with notes of crisp green apple and peach.
1998 Hugel & Fils Jubilee Riesling ($35) The Hugels, who became winegrowers in 1639, produce this minerally, superfloral wine entirely from an estate-owned grand cru vineyard.
1999 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle ($127) The Jaboulets' Hermitage is arguably the most famous wine of this Rhône appellation. Their 1999 is dense, dark and weighty, but surprisingly approachable.
1998 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon ($125) The flagship offering from the family winery that pioneered Napa's modern era is surprisingly backward, opaque and superconcentrated, requiring another three to five years to open up.
1998 Mouton Rothschild ($250) This great First Growth Bordeaux reached its present glory under the flamboyant Baron Philippe. The 1998 is classic Mouton--silky and impeccably balanced.
Pol Roger Brut NV Champagne ($30) Family patriarch and fourth-generation Champagne producer Christian Pol-Roger has turned out a well-made, medium-bodied nonvintage wine.
1997 Torres Grans Muralles ($103) The Torres family makes wine on three continents; this rich Spanish red, a blend of native grapes, is a credit to their Catalan roots.
1996 Vega Sicilia Valbuena ($100) This famous Spanish red is a Bordeaux-style blend that's brooding, rich and tightly knit. Cellar it for another five years.