Despite the many champagne and sparkling wine brands, families run very few of the famous names in the industry. In the last thirty years, the big drinks companies and luxury goods brands, often family-owned themselves, have bought many of the great names, particularly in the Champagne region. Famous brands like Krug, Veuve Cliquot, Moet & Chandon, and Ruinart are all owned by the luxury group LVMH. Other big owners include drinks group Pernod Ricard and Renaud-Cointreau.
But here’s five very independent, family-owned champagne and sparkling wine companies that make interesting reading for any family business given the experiences they have been through...
Pol Roger, Champagne
One of the grandest champagne houses and owned since the mid-19th century by descendants of its eponymous founder. Famous for its association with Winston Churchill - the great statesman loved the champagne - Pol Roger branded its most prestigious label Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill. Now overseen by the fifth generation represented by a supervisory board of members of the family including Christian Pol-Roger, Véronique Collard de Billy, Evelyne de Billy, and Christian de Billy. Pol Roger is the only champagne house to be a member of the Primum Familiae Vini (the first families of wine), an exclusive association of family-owned wineries around the world with just 12 members.
In terms of family ownership, Duval-Leroy has one of the most enduring histories of them all. The maison was founded in 1859 by Edouard Leroy and Jules Duval. In order to keep the maison in single family ownership, the two organised a wedding between Jules’s son and Edouard’s daughter. The son from this marriage Raymond went on to run the business until he was succeeded by Charles in the 1950s.
In 1985, the fifth generation represented by Jean Charles Duval-Leroy took over, but tragically died a few years later at the age of just 39. With the sixth generation still very young, the running of the business passed over to Jean’s wife Carol Duval-Leroy. Carol vowed to keep Duval-Leroy under the family’s control, despite offers to buy the business from outsiders. Her determination to succeed in running the business has meant she has become one of the most respected women in the French champagne/wine business. Her sons have gradually taken a bigger role in the business and the maison remains very firmly in family control.
Taittinger has had one of the most colourful histories of the famous champagne houses, including the Taittinger family selling and buying back the business in the space of less than a year. The champagne that became Tattinger traces it history back to Benedictine monks in the 1740s. But it wasn’t until the 1930s when Pierre-Charles Taittinger bought the Château de la Marquetterie that the Taittinger name became linked to the famous maison. In 2005, Taittinger was briefly sold to the US private investment group Starwood Capital Group - a universally unpopular decision - which led to the third generation under the stewardship of Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger to buy the business back, with the help of a hefty loan, in 2006.
Ferrari Trento, Italy
The great sparkling wine of Italy is also a family business, owned by the Lunelli family since 1952 when its founder Giulio Ferrari, without a heir, handed the business over to his friend and wine seller Bruno Lunelli. He subsequently passed it over to his three sons. Now under the control of the third generation led by Matteo Lunelli, the group also own a number of wine estates in Italy, a mineral water company, and a 50% stake in a prosecco maker.
The hugely successful Spanish sparkling wine brand (cava) began as a joint effort of two families with the marriage of Pedro Ferrer and Dolores Sala Vivé in 1889. Pedro died in the Spanish Civil War and the running of the business was very much in the hands of Dolores and her three daughters until she retired in 1957 when it was passed over to her son Josep Ferrer. Famous for its distinct black and white frosted bottles, Josep Lluís Bone, a law professor and Josep’s nephew, became president in 1999.