Andrew James Symington ('AJ') arrived in Portugal in 1882 aged just 19. His father was a Glasgow merchant and his mother hailed from Unst in the Shetland Islands. After a short stint at Graham’s Port, AJ set up a small port shipping operation under his own name. In 1891 he married Porto-born Beatrice Leitão de Carvalhosa Atkinson, whose grandfather had been a port producer and shipper since 1814 and whose Portuguese mother was descended from the pioneering port merchants of the 17th century. Today's 5th generation of Symingtons working in the port trade can trace their lineage back through 14 generations to 1652 via their great-great-grandmother to the earliest days of port’s long history.
In 1905 AJ became a partner in Warre's Port, the first and oldest British port company established in Portugal. Curiously, at this time the Warre family were the principal owners of Dow’s Port and had no remaining interest in the company that bore their name. In 1912, Dow’s senior partner, George A. Warre decided to return to England and invited AJ to manage the Douro vineyards of Dow, its lodges and stocks in Gaia. In the same year, a share swap took place whereby AJ took a stake in Dow’s and George Warre once again took shares in Warre & Co. The successful partnership between the Symingtons as port producers in the Douro and Gaia and the Warres looking after the sales in London lasted for half a century until 1961 when the Symingtons became the sole owners of both Dow’s and Warre's.
At every opportunity AJ, Beatrice and their three sons, Maurice (b.1895) and the twins John and Ronald (b.1900), would leave their house in Porto to travel to the Dow's Quintas in the Douro: Quinta do Bomfim, Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira, and Quinta do Zimbro. The children grew to love the wild, untamed and remote mountain country. In due course, the three sons joined their father in helping run the Douro properties, tending the vines and overseeing the winemaking. The visitor books register their frequent visits and bring to life the work they undertook over several decades as they paved the way for the next generation. Some of the vines planted by them during the 1920s and 1930s survive to this day. This love of the Douro region and the Portuguese countryside has deepened with every passing Symington generation.
Andrew and Beatrice’s grandsons, Michael, Ian, and James joined the family firm during one of the most challenging periods facing port, the post-World War II era. They were later joined by Peter and Amyas. The War had put a halt to most exports of port and during the 1950s many of the long-established port families sold their firms and left Portugal. However the Symingtons never lost faith in an eventual recovery, even though the hard times obliged the third generation to sell two of their treasured vineyards, Quinta do Zimbro and Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira. In an extraordinary turn of events, the fourth generation were able to repurchase Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira in 1998, 45 years later.
The Symington’s faith in port and commitment to the Douro throughout these lean times began to pay off when Europe entered a period of prosperity during the early 1960s. The declaration of the outstanding 1963 Vintage, a 20th century classic, heralded a period of sustained growth and success for the family firm. In 1970 the Symington family bought the widely respected W & J Graham & Co when it was put up for sale. The third generation was instrumental in turning around not just the prospects of their own family business but contributed, with others, to the revival of the port trade as a whole, and helped lay the foundations for its growth in markets around the world from the 1970s onwards.
The first of the fourth generation, Paul, joined in 1979, and was followed by Johnny, Dominic, Rupert, and Charles. In 1989 they acquired the legendary Douro estate, Quinta do Vesuvio and set about restoring it to its former glory. In 2010 the decision was taken to buy Cockburn's Port, returning an iconic port house to family management after a multi-decade period of corporate ownership. The fourth generation have presided over a period of continued success that has seen the business become one of the world's leading producers of premium ports as well as being pioneers in the exciting new Douro wine scene and becoming leaders in wine tourism in both Gaia and the Douro.
The first of the fifth generation, Rob, Charlotte, Vicky, and Harry, have now joined the business, after spending time gaining valuable experience and skills in other areas. Two of their cousins are working in our distribution companies; Anthony at Fells in the UK and Hugh at Premium Port Wine in the US. They and many of their cousins have worked holiday jobs in the winery or in one of our visitor centres, learning about their family business from the ground up. The 5th generation are committed to doing their part in continuing to evolve Symington Family Estates to face the challenges and opportunities that lie in the years ahead. To everyone's delight, the first young members of the 6th generation are already on the scene, enjoying the joys of a childhood spent between Porto and the Douro hills and vineyards.