An acrimonious dispute within one of Spain’s great winemaking families has led to its founder disinheriting three of his daughters and leaving his entire fortune to the youngest.
Alejandro Fernández, who revived the fortunes of the Ribera del Duero wine region in the 1980s with his Bodegas Pesquera winery, changed his last will and testament five days before his death in May to exclude his daughters Olga, Lucia and Mari Cruz.
They had sided with their mother, Emilia Rivera, when their parents separated in 2017. Only Eva, the youngest daughter, remained loyal to the patriarch when her sisters and mother forced him out of the business, valued at $177 million.
The family drama has led Spaniards to compare it to Falcon Crest, the popular 1980s television series that portrayed a wealthy and divided Californian winemaking family. But the latest twist, the opening of Fernández’s will, has shades of King Lear.
“My daughters have been taking over everything little by little,” he told El País newspaper in 2019. “I want what is mine, my Pesquera of all my life. For the past year my own daughters have taken away everything I have done since I was a child. I just want to split it, have peace, make wine and continue my life.”
The family conflict has its origins in 1990 when Fernández, by then a trailblazer for Ribera del Duero, divided the shares of the company Alejandro Fernández Tinto Pesquera, with an equal slice for him and his wife and a small holding to each of his daughters.
“My daughters have been taking over everything little by little.”
But when the marriage foundered, the sum of his wife’s and three elder daughters’ shares allowed them to take control.
In September 2018 he was dismissed from all his positions in the company and forbidden entry to the bodega. That led to a series of legal battles. Fernández and Eva set about forming two new companies maintaining the Pesquera name, while his ex-wife and estranged daughters changed the name of the original bodega to Familia Fernández Rivera.
A settlement between the warring family was nearly reached last November but fell apart over tax issues.
When Fernández changed his will to disinherit Olga, Lucia and Mari Cruz, his loyal daughter Eva took him to a psychologist to affirm that he was of sound mind.
Five days later he was presenting some of his latest wines at a restaurant in Santander, when he fainted. Some of those present said that he had been in good spirits, laughing and singing and autographing bottles for his admirers. He died a few hours later in hospital at the age of 88.
The depth of the family rift was evident when the newspaper El Norte de Castilla asked his daughter Olga about the death of her father. “I don’t know anything, I found out about it in the newspaper. Eva didn’t tell us,” she said.
Fernández made his first Tinto Pesquera in 1975 and seven years later the wine critic Robert Parker dubbed it “the Spanish Petrus”. Today there are more than 280 wineries and the land under vines has quadrupled, transforming the region’s economy.