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Paul Symington, Decanter Man of the Year 2012

Paul Symington, Decanter’s Man of the Year 2012, was ‘predestined’ for his role at the helm of the family company.

Speaking to Andrew Jefford in this month’s issue of Decanter magazine, the chairman of Symington Family Estates remembers how ‘grim’ life was for the port shippers when he was started work at the company in the mid-1970s.

‘Now we drive nice cars and live very comfortably, but then there wasn’t any money and we couldn’t afford to travel. I never went to England until I was 13.’

When he started work at the company in his mid-20s, he now feels he was ‘almost predestined for this, and that my career was laid out for me. It’s hard not to imagine what you might have done in another field.’

Symington tells Jefford he refuses to be downcast by the current crisis in Portugal. Indulging his passion for history he went through the archives and realised that good times come and go ‘like the seasons’.

‘Some times had been very good, but some had been really awful. We have some difficult times in Europe and Portugal now, but these things are like the seasons; it will change in time. I can’t do anything about it, so I don’t worry.’

Described by Steven Spurrier as ‘inspirational’ and by Marchese Piero Antinori as the ‘trustworthy descendent of a great dynasty,’ Symington also makes clear that he is a European – the ‘Europhobia’ of many of the British saddens him – and that he is passionate about his homeland, the Douro, where on his retirement he will live permanently.

‘It heals my soul. I can’t wait for Janie [his wife] and I to come and live here all the time.’

Symington Family Estates is run by Paul with his cousins Johnny and Rupert, and other family members of the company include his brother Dominic and his cousin Charles, with ‘the next generation is poised to arrive soon, led by Paul’s eldest son Robert’, Jefford writes.

As Symington is at pains to point out early in the interview, ‘It’s a family award, which I’m very happy to accept – but only on behalf of everybody.’

Read the full interview in Decanter magazine, on sale Wednesday 7 March.

Hall of Fame: Decanter Men and Women of the Year 1984-2011

2011 Giacomo Tachis Italy

2010 Aubert de Villaine Burgundy

2009 Nicolás Catena Argentina

2008 Christian Moueix Bordeaux

2007 Anthony Barton Bordeaux

2006 Marcel Guigal Rhône

2005 Ernst Loosen Mosel

2004 Brian Croser Adelaide Hills

2003 Jean-Michel Cazes Bordeaux

2002 Miguel Torres Penedès

2001 Jean-Claude Rouzaud Champagne

2000 Paul Draper California (left)

1999 Jancis Robinson MW OBE London

1998 Angelo Gaja Piedmont

1997 Len Evans OBE AO Australia

1996 Georg Riedel Austria

1995 Hugh Johnson OBE London

1994 May-Elianede Lencquesaing Bordeaux (left)

1993 Michael Broadbent MW London

1992 André Tchelistcheff California

1991José Ignacio Domecq Jerez

1990 Prof Emile Peynaud Bordeaux

1989 Robert Mondavi California

1988 Max Schubert Australia

1987 Alexis Lichine Bordeaux

1986 Marchese Piero Antinori Tuscany

1985 Laura & Corinne Mentzelopoulos Bordeaux

1984 Serge Hochar Lebanon

Written by Adam Lechmere

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