Michael Symington CBE, who led his family’s Port business after the Second World War and helped lay the foundations for its future expansion and success, has died aged 87.
‘Generous in spirit’: Michael Symington, right, with nephew Charles
The father of current company chairman Paul Symington – Decanter Man of the Year 2012 – and his younger brother Dominic, Michael ran the Symingtons’ port business, aided by cousins Ian and James, from 1965 to 1990, elevating it to a position of prominence.
The company is now the biggest in the port trade, owning Graham’s, Cockburn’s, Dow’s, Warre’s and Quinta do Vesuvio, and is also the Douro Valley’s largest vineyard owner.
Born in May 1925, Michael Douglas Symington was the grandson of Andrew James Symington, who left Glasgow for Oporto in 1882 and began his family’s long association with the port trade.
By the time that Michael joined his father and uncles in the business in 1947, the economic climate was difficult, but the Symingtons’ persistence was rewarded with the return of better times in the early 1960s.
Michael’s tenure spanned the purchase of Graham’s in 1970 and the revolution in Portugal of 1974, when he was part of a small group advising the British ambassador in Lisbon of the situation in Oporto.
In 1988, Symington was appointed CBE for his contribution to Anglo-Portuguese relations and for his work among the British community in Oporto.
A great lover of the Douro, he spent much of his leisure time there, first at Quinta do Bomfim and, after his retirement in 1990, at his own vineyard high above the Pinhão Valley.
Richard Mayson, chairman of the port panel at the Decanter World Wine Awards, described Michael as ‘an innovator who steered his family firm with great skill through some very challenging times during the 1960s and 1970s’.
He added: ‘He did much to help the business become the successful enterprise it is today. Michael was a family man who will be greatly missed by all who knew and worked with him.’
Former Cockburn’s director Peter Cobb said Symington was ‘a man of great charm’, adding: ‘He was an excellent public speaker, and a great port personality, extremely generous in spirit to his competitors. If it was good for port, one felt, it was ok with Michael.’
Cobb recalled that Michael was delighted when the family bought back the prime Quinta da Nossa Senhora da Ribeira vineyard in the Upper Douro in 1998 – a property originally purchased in the 1890s but sold in the difficult days of 1952.
‘He was a modest man, and one can safely say that the port trade was the love of his life, after his wife and four children.’
Written by Richard Woodard