It's hard to underestimate the value of family when so much of today's wine is in the hands of the faceless global corporations. But the family can also be a powerful brand in its own right. "Family ownership guarantees a patient and long-term outlook, much needed in the wine industry," says Spain's Miguel Torres. With Antinori and Mouton Rothschild, Torres is a member of Primum Familiae Vini, a high-powered family association sharing their vision of wine. Ten of Italy's Valpolicella families have recently gone down a similar route and New Zealand Family of Twelve, based on the idea of 12 wines to a case, have embraced one another with the aim of flexing their combined muscle.
There can be a downside too. One of France's chronic problems has been the law of succession, with property so endlessly divided that it becomes impossibly fragmented. The dysfunctional side of the family was recently demonstrated by the débâcle in which paterfamilias Robert Mondavi found himself having to sell the family company painstakingly built up over decades because his sons fell out, just as their father had done with his brother, Peter, in the Sixties. With no accountability to shareholders, families can play their cards close to their chests and drag their heels, but for Miguel Torres "a stock-market flotation would be a deadly sin – that would send us to hell; that's when you become short-termist".
In the light of an industry under fire for falling exports it was only a matter of time before Australia put its best family foot forward. To show that their wines are creations of personality is the aim behind Australia's First Families of Wine. With a fifth of Australia's wine sales, they comprise: Brown Brothers, Campbells, Tahbilk (Victoria), d'Arenberg, Henschke, Jim Barry, Taylors, Yalumba (South Australia), De Bortoli, McWilliam's, Tyrrell's (New South Wales) and Howard Park (Western Australia). According to Stephen Henschke, one of Australia's best producers, "We all are proud of our family heritage ... we are the ones who can provide succession to the next generation while the 'multicorps' go into meltdown."
Renowned for their Hunter semillon, Tyrrell's 2002 Vat 1 Semillon, around £21.99, Fortnum and Mason, Corks Out (01925 267 700, corksout.com), Larners of Holt (01263 712244), is highly distinctive and full of intense buttered toast and lime citrus characters. From Goulburn in Victoria, Tahbilk's 2007 Marsanne, £8.99-£9.99, Booths, Sainsbury's, is a pungent dry white with herbal undertones and a poised, rich, but stylishly dry lemon and lime tang. The zesty Henschke 2006 Julius, £14.95-£16, winedirect.co.uk, slurp.co.uk, Laithwaites, is one of the purest styles of Aussie dry riesling available.
McLaren Vale's D'Arenberg is known for its plethora of good-value, quality wines and quirky labels, and its 2006 D'Arry's Original Shiraz Grenache, £8.99-£12.99, Co-Op, Bibendum, Oddbins, is a model of intense, peppery blackberry fruit with a sophisticated savouriness to it. No Australian family group worthy of the name could omit Barossa's Yalumba, whose 2005 The Signature, around £24.70, Jeroboams, Harrods, Free Run Juice, Hoults, is a classic Barossa blend of leafy cabernet, smoky oak and concentrated dark-fruits richness, neatly framed by oak. Let's leave it to Campbells to end on a sweet note, in the form of the viscously rich, toffee and raisin-imbued Campbells Rutherglen Muscat, £9.50-£9.99, half-bottle, Waitrose, Oddbins, Adnams.