The region of northern Italy where the 17e and 18e century, the maker of musical instruments Antonio Stradivari lived and died does not produce wine. We don’t know that this slender orphan turned craftsman who wore a white cap and apron enjoyed vintages. Yet today, some of the world’s greatest winemakers appreciate the way the craft of violin making resonates with their own vocations: transforming a natural material into a conduit for sensory pleasure.
Earlier this month, members of Premium Familiae Vini (PFV) – a group of twelve prestigious wine producers based in Europe – gathered south of Brussels in Belgium. There, they presented their new “sustainability award” to Maison Bernard, which is a family business that produces violins in Brussels. Jan Strick and his son Matthijs received the award. This pair and their assistant, archer Pierre Guillaume, also restore instruments, including a Stradivarius from 1732 today.
“There is the Nobel Prize, but I never thought that such a prize could exist for a family business,” remarked Jan, receiving the prize. “Now it is possible to put these companies and these people in the spotlight. “
Part of the € 100,000 ($ 112,000) prize will cover Matthijs’ expenses to travel to Chicago and New York to work with renowned companies that sell violins.
The PFV wine group was created in 1992 to defend the values of family wine ownership, allow members to exchange views and experiences and consider common challenges. The dozen wine houses that make up this group are renowned for consistent quality: Champagne Pol Roger, Domaine Clarence Dillon, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Egon Müller Scharzhof, Famille Hugel, Maison Joseph Drouhin, Marchesi Antinori, Famille Perrin, Tenuta San Guido, The Symington Family Estates, Vega-Sicilia and Miguel Torres.
Surrounded by these winegrowers in the magnificent home of artist Sophie Cauvin (which is also an art gallery), Jan shared his story.
“I found a violin that belonged to a great uncle. When I was 14, I had a passion for making violins. I saw a violin store with my dad. The door opened and a strange man looked at us. He was nicely dressed in fancy clothes. I explained my obsession with becoming a luthier. But, since he already had an apprentice, he took our address instead. A few months later, he wrote to say that his apprentice had left. The demands of the job were eccentric, including having to wear a suit and tie.
“This is how I started at Maison Bernard in Liège, as an apprentice. I also spent eight years in France making and restoring violins.
Paul Symington of The Symington Family Estate of Portugal explained the importance of this PFV Sustainability Award, which is awarded to a family business that demonstrates excellence in sustainability, innovation, craftsmanship and transmission commitment to future generations.
“PFV and its twelve families are often considered the epitome of tradition in the wine world. In reality, we are quite the opposite – we are pioneers… those who refused to lay down the torch of homestead. Our parents and grandparents went through difficult times.
“Two figures from McKinsey and Company show that 85% of global GDP is generated by family businesses, but only 16% of family businesses continue into the second generation. “
“The uniqueness of our vineyards and the special family touch have a profound impact on the wines we make. It is a mistake to believe that family businesses are inherently weaker because they cannot compete with ultra-efficient businesses. I quote McKinsey again: “family ownership has often been linked to superior shareholder performance” and “family businesses invest 29% more income in R&D than non-family businesses”. ‘
Symington drew a clear parallel between family values and craftsmanship, whether for winegrowers– winegrowers, or for luthiers – manufacturers of musical instruments.
“Maison Bernard is a shining example for its dedication to excellence and the defense of broader ideals. “
During this 36-wine and 12-wine award ceremony, the winegrowers presented their own craft.
Hubert de Billy, from Champagne Pol Roger, shares the values of generational identity. “The wines become magical over time. The most important thing in business is to have future generations, not dead ancestors, proud of our wine. ‘
Meriea Torres, graduated in chemical engineering from Barcelona and enology from Montpellier, is now Innovation & Knowledge Manager for Familia Torres wines. She explained the value of long-term knowledge of a craft, whether it’s creating instruments or making wine. “What is important is the compromise between experience and innovation,” she summed up.
Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild, of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, noted that “if you give a Stradivarius to a bad violinist, he will make bad music”. Likewise, he pointed out, producing good wine requires the combination of both a talented winemaker and a terroir.
German winemaker Egon Müller shared his own understanding of the rewards of personal involvement with practical craftsmanship. Müller, who harvested grapes in the Médoc in Bordeaux in 1979 and worked with Robert Mondavi in 1983, harvested grapes for the first harvest of his own wine in 1986. Asked about the size of his vineyard, he replied: “We could be bigger, but I want to be able to do it all on my own.”
Award-winning violinist Jan Strick, impeccably dressed in a suit, jacket and tie, beamed with pride as he strode through the room and listened to a quartet playing classical music with instruments he and his son had shaped.
“Sometimes in life,” he says, enjoying the moment, “you need luck.
It may be true. Yet it also took decades of diligent effort to win this well-deserved award.