The SOMM Journal

February/March 2015

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Page 34 of 92

34 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } FEBRUARY/MARCH 2015 { letter from london } FIRST A DECLARATION: I AM A CLOSE FRIEND OF José Manuel Ortega Fournier and godfather to his youngest daughter, but my admiration for his vision, determination and achievements, present and future, are not influenced by this, but simply by the fact that he is one of the most creative forces for good that I have known during my 50 years in the wine business. This youthful (to me)Spaniard, born in Burgos in 1968, brings to mind seniors like Piero Antinori, Miguel Torres and the late, lamented Philippine de Rothschild, all three brilliantly dedicated to expanding an impressive inheritance; José Manuel started from scratch just 14 years ago. Following a graduate education in the U.S., where he gained a summa cum laude in economics and a Bachelor of Arts in political science at Pennsylvania University's Wharton School of Business, José Manuel was hired by Goldman Sachs Europe to work in mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance in London, where he stayed until 1995. He then joined Banco Santander's Investment Banking Group and in 1997 was asked to take the responsibility of founding Symbios Capital, a Latin American private equity fund, becoming its President until his resignation in 2004. During his tenure he founded the O. Fournier Group in 2000, whose focus was to develop high-end wineries in Spain, Argentina and Chile and to this end took a Master in Viticulture and Oenology in Rioja's Logroño. From the beginning, the objec- tive was to become one of the three best high-quality producers in both Chile and Argentina, while in Ribera del Duero he aimed to join the group of the top ten wineries in Spain. In many ways this objective has already been fulfilled, for O. Fournier is the only multinational winery group in which one of the wines from the three estates has won trophies for the best wine of their country: Alfa Crux 2001 (his first vintage) for Argentina, Spiga 2004 for Spain and O. Fournier Maule 2008 for Chile. However, there is much more to José Manuel's achievements than top medals at wine competitions, so one must examine his philosophy of "Cult Grapes" across the three countries. ARGENTINA The first purchase of land in the La Consulta region of Mendoza's Uco Valley, at an altitude of 1,200 metres approximately 15 kilo- metres from the Andes Mountains, was in 2000, and now the holdings spread across three estates—Santa Sofía, San Manuel and San José—for a total of 287 hectares (709 cres), of which 180 (445 acres) are currently planted, the original vines being over 40 years old. In descending surface order the grapes are: Malbec, Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Petit Verdot. Following the Spanish tradition, the bush vine system is used (although ver ti- cal trellising is being trialled) to protect the grapes from strong sun radiation, while obtaining low yields to bring concentrated aromas and firm structure. The soils are rocky and sandy that allows excellent drainage of the pure water that comes from the melting snow from the Andes. While most vineyards look alike, most wineries are quite dif- ferent, and the O. Fournier winery is more different than most. Designed by lead architect Eliana Bormida, equipped with the lat- est technology and working on the gravity system with a capacity of 2,800 barrels in temperature-controlled cellar, it has been voted the second-best winery building after Frank Gehry's Marqués de Riscal hotel. In October 2006 José Manuel's wife, Nadia Harón de Ortega, opened restaurant "Urban at O. Fournier" in a crystal cube room adjacent to the Visitor Centre, with perfect views of the Andes Mountains. Nadia's Argentine/Spanish/Mediterranean cuisine makes a sublime match for the wines and is voted Best in Mendoza on a regular basis. Even travelling for 290 days a year, José Manuel has found the time to launch O. Fournier Wine Partners, a venture that offers plots of one to three hectares (two-and-a-half to seven-and-a- half acres) of mostly Malbec vines on the Santa Sofía Estate, with a selected eight of the larger blocks having the right to build a villa, of which only two are still available at the time of writing. So far, more than 60% of the plots have been taken, the O. Fournier company taking charge of everything from start to finish, with special labels for each owner. In early 2015 ground will be bro- A Force for Good AN APPRECIATION OF JOSÉ MANUEL ORTEGA FOURNIER, FOUNDER OF O. FOURNIER by Steven Spurrier José Manuel Ortega Fournier with his wife, Nadia Harón de Ortega, and their children. PHOTO COURTESY OF O. FOURNIER

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