James Symington, a pioneer in the world of Port, died this week. He leaves behind a 40-year legacy that changed the world of Port as we know it.
Born in 1934, Symington was a third-generation Port producer. He worked as a taster and blender before producing the excellent and renowned Dow’s and Warre’s 1966 and 1970 Vintage Ports, as well as Graham’s 1970. These vintages brought about Port’s revival after a couple of financially beleaguered decades for Port sales, and it also brought about Symington’s marriage to his beloved Penny.
With Port’s revival in the 1960s, Symington decided to work on the commercial side of the Port industry, identifying new North American and European markets, handing over the tasting and blending roles to his cousin Peter in 1973.
After more tumultuous years, Symington founded Premium Port Wines in San Francisco in 1985, which became the first wine distribution company for Port in the United States and is still the driving force behind U.S. Port sales. His family says that he “had an overwhelming love of the Douro.”
Symington’s entrepreneurial sensibilities didn’t stop there. His love for Port, drinks and stories was the catalyst behind the establishment of the Primum Familiae Vini (PFV) as one of the founding members, along with the Antinori, Drouhin and Torres families. PFV is now a 12-member association of family-owned wine companies. He and Penny also renovated a Portuguese quinta on 350 acres, with 135 acres planted under vine.
Symington is survived by Penny; his sons Rupert, who is the CEO of Symington Family Estates, and Hugh, who works for Premium Port Wines in San Francisco; two daughters, Clare and Miranda; and six grandchildren.