Ask a Winemaker: Rupert Symington on Tradition, Sustainability, and the Future of Symington Family Estates

SHARP & Symington Family Estates

For over 130 years, five generations of winemakers in the Symington family have been making some of the world’s most cherished port wines, from revered vintage expressions to the much-loved aged tawny ports.

Symington Family Estates — which includes Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s, Cockburn’s, and Prats & Symington — isn’t content to rest on its laurels, however. Always ahead of the curve, SFE has won awards for sustainability, is pioneering organic port expressions, and recently became one of the few fortified wine producers in the world to earn B Corp certification, making it a leader in transparency, permaculture, and inclusivity.

SHARP recently caught up with Rupert Symington, CEO of the family business, to ask about the responsibility of making one of the world’s most revered wines and what’s in store for the future.

Rupert Symington headshot

Why do you think these wines are synonymous with the holidays?

Port has long been associated with its warming and friendly qualities, and the lively conversations that we strike up when getting together in family groups over the holiday season. Port is best enjoyed in a moment of relaxation and in the company of others — and there is no better time to enjoy a glass than when the weather outside is cold.

Symington Family Estates Grahams Lodge Tawnies

How do you maintain five generations of tradition and still keep with the times?

We are determined to maintain the traditions of port wine as a style that evolved out of necessity — fortification with brandy being necessary to ensure that the wine was able to withstand the difficult journey from the Douro Valley to the export markets — but which went on to become, against all odds, one of the world’s favourite wines.

Even so, we have sought to improve every aspect of the process, from the choice of varieties planted to the management of the vineyard, the winemaking equipment, and wood aging, so as to keep port on the radar of a new generation of consumers.

Symington Family Estates Grahams

Is part of that improvement the company’s impressive sustainability efforts?

We have recently established a number of demanding sustainability objectives that reflect the family’s commitment to ensuring that we respect the land on which we grow grapes. Among other key sustainability goals for SFE are reductions in the use of energy and water, a greater use of renewable energy across the company, the reduction of our carbon footprint, and the opening of a new LEED Gold–certified winery in the Douro.

What does it take to become a certified B Corp? Why was it important for SFE to attain that status and what is its significance?

The principle behind B Corp is continuous improvement in a wide range of areas, from the way staff, suppliers, and customers are treated to respect for the community and the environment. B Corp provides us with a framework to be measured against international benchmarks. We felt that it perfectly fit our aspirations to continue building shareholder value while focusing more attention on the Douro region — and its people — on which we rely so heavily for our raw materials.

Symington Family Estates quinta dos malvedos

What do you hope the new, fifth generation of wine visionaries will bring to this chapter of Symington Family Estates?

As in music and art, each generation of human beings has made its own contribution to culture, and we believe the same is true of wine families. Presenting wines in a way that appeals to contemporary culture has always been an important ingredient in our success, and there can be no better ambassadors for our brands than the fifth generation, which has grown up among them.

Symington Family Estates Food Pairing Grahams Tawny

What’s your favourite pairing with the 20-year-old Tawny Port?

Older tawny port develops a lovely nutty, raisiny taste while preserving a clean, fresh acidity that works perfectly with caramel-flavoured desserts or pastries made with fresh or baked fruit. My own preference, however, is for 20-year-old tawny with a ripe Époisses cheese — a perfect pairing of sweet and savoury.