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Family Business: Generations

This essay is the next in an occasional series of articles by Robert Haas.

In my career as a wine buyer, I have been fortunate to find models to admire and mentors willing to share their knowledge and experience in the business of producing fine wine. One such was Jacques Perrin, owner with his family of Château de Beaucastel since the beginning of the twentieth century. He was a fanatic for estate growing, organic farming and using all thirteen permitted grape varieties in his wines. In our profession there is a great tradition of passing on wine knowledge from generation to generation. Although he was only seven or eight years older than I, he took me under his wing like a father: showing me around not only Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but also all the appellations of the Côtes du Rhône.


What started out to be a business relationship soon developed into a strong friendship between Jacques and his wife, Guite, and Barbara and me. Barbara and I were frequent visitors to Beaucastel, not only to taste and buy wines, but also to tour the Vaucluse, dine, share older vintages, socialize, and philosophize. A photo of Jacques holding Jason, age four and one half months is above. Jacques’ sons, Jean-Pierre and François were soon to follow and to found new family wine businesses, one of which, some twenty years later, turned out to be our partnership in Tablas Creek Vineyard. Although I was a half of a generation between the sons and their parents, we all became good friends, business partners, and frequent visitors back and forth between France and the United States.

I am often asked if our venture at Tablas Creek is the realization of a dream. Actually, it was more of an itch than a dream. For many years while selecting and marketing other peoples’ wines I had been tempted by the idea of owning vineyard and making wine. However, it took until 1989, strong family attachments and the Perrins’ acquired confidence in California, its climates and soils, for us to believe that we could use the Beaucastel model to succeed here. Jason joined me at Tablas Creek a few years later and both Marc and Pierre, Jean-Pierre’s two oldest sons, have been frequent visitors to and contributors at Tablas. And visitors to Tablas Creek have come to know Jason's sons Eli and Sebastian, now four and two.  The next generation is well engaged.

While multiple generation family vineyards are frequent in France, they are less so in California. Tablas Creek happened above all because of a clear model to follow and the expectation that it would be served by succeeding generations of our families. We have worked together profitably for years with a totally convergent point of view and amazingly with hardly any disagreement.

Tablas Creek Vineyard is a logical following for me of the role models I so much admired: dedicated vignerons who worked their domains and made and bottled their wines in a terroir conscious manner and who fought hard to get their fellow proprietors to do the same. In practically all the estates with whom I worked I see their children and grandchildren continuing to respectfully work the land and make great wines. We are planning to do the same here.

[As an aside, readers may be interested in the second-ever post from this blog, from December 2005, with photos from when Jason and Meghan brought a 6-month-old Eli to visit Beaucastel.]