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Food & drink

Family squabbles

Although family businesses are allegedly the most resilient when push comes to shove, once they do start falling apart it is usually terminal. And the worst aspect is that it is not only the business itself that suffers irredeemably, but personal and family relationships too. The wine industry sees more problems of this type than other businesses, but this is possibly because it gets more column inches. The family breakup affecting a small engineering firm does not have the same impact. The mythical winemaker, Vega Sicilia, has had more than its fair share of internecine strife, all well-aired in the media, and causing David Álvarez, head of the family, to remark that when he ran the industrial cleaning company Eulen, with 82,000 employees, no one had ever heard of him, but as the boss of Vega Sicilia, with 30 employees, he became a national celebrity. The company survived a family break-up, while Catalan cava producer Freixenet did not, and ended up being taken over by the multinational drinks firm Henkell.

In the long list of such crises in Spanish wineries, the latest saga involves one of the top names in the business, the Ribera del Duero Pesquera bodega. As usually happens, the spark that detonated the war was a matrimonial split-up, and in this case the two sides facing it out are husband and ex-partner, with their respective family teams. Alejandro Fernández, the man who spent 50 years getting the wine accepted in the top ten of the region, together with his daughter Eva, the bodega’s winemaker, are living an almost besieged existence. Alejandro’s ex, with the support of the other three daughters, sacked Eva. It would be a mistake to simplify the quarrel to a straightforward who-owns-what dispute, as the whole question of whether the company should review the way it makes its wines has also been tossed into the ring. It seems that father and enologist daughter opt for traditional methods, while ex and the other daughters want to see a different approach, more in line with other ‘modern’ Ribera del Duero brands.

In the meantime, and in spite of Alejandro Fernández’s declared belief that everything will soon be settled, writs fly on an almost daily basis, and the lawyers get richer and richer.