You may not have heard of Jose Manuel Ortega Fournier, but you've probably seen his O. Fournier and Urban Uco wines from Argentina. A Spaniard educated in the United States, Jose Manuel jumped from the world of investment banking and private equity to the wine industry in 2000. Today, O. Fournier produces wines in Argentina, Chile, and Spain, all with the latest technology. We've tasted some fantastic wines from O. Fournier this week, and we were lucky enough to get a moment of Jose Manuel's time to hear out about his global wine odyssey.
AV: O. Fournier has gained a sterling reputation in the remarkably short time since its founding. What was your experience in the wine business before launching in 2000? What did you think you could do better?
JMOF: We had no experience before 2000. I was just a wine collector who decided to take an additional step into producing wine. I thought there was a niche for a high-quality boutique multinational wine group focused in cold climate areas.
AV: You manage vineyards and winemaking in Argentina, Chile, and Spain. How did you decide to enter those three production markets? Have you considered going anywhere else?
JMOF: We thought there were some similarities in the style we could produce in these three countries. In 2000, we thought these three countries, mainly Argentina and Chile, could grow in a significant way. We are thinking about expanding to the US, Portugal and other countries.
AV: What are the common factors in your winemaking in the three countries? In other words, what are the unique hallmarks that a wine drinker should look for in an O. Fournier wine? Which of your Argentine wines provides the best introduction to your products?
JMOF: We have always worked for elegance, finesse and freshness. We have been innovators in that respect as most wineries decided to go for power and false exuberance. We also believe in producing wines that are excellent upon release but exceptional with aging. We are producing wines which will last for decades. I love our Urban Uco and Alfa Crux ranges.
AV: Each of the three countries where you make wine has an emblematic red grape - malbec in Argentina, carmenere in Chile, and tempranillo in Spain. You've put tempranillo together with malbec - and also Portugal's touriga nacional! - in your Argentine blends, but your Chilean blends don't include carmenere, and your top Spanish reds are all tempranillo. Can you tell us the reasons for the different choices?
JMOF: We try to produce wines with the best possible quality. If these wines come from varieties which are "local", even better. This is the reason why we use malbec in Argentina and tempranillo in Spain. Carmenere is not a variety which interests us for the quality it provides. On the contrary, we feel that carignan, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc are better suited for Chile. Tempranillo also works extremely well for Argentina.
AV: American consumers have become huge fans of malbec. What's the best way to introduce them to cabernet franc, carignan, and the special taste of tempranillo from Ribera del Duero?
JMOF: I think the US consumer is very sophisticated. As long as the producer offers wines which are pure, well-made, and at a good price, they will enjoy these wines.
AV: What has been the biggest challenge in running an intercontinental winemaking business, especially across three countries that are so different?
JMOF: Surprisingly enough, it has been the administration side and also coping with the financial crash of 2008, when our Spanish banks abandoned us. From the technical point of view, we have done very well. As an example, in one year we have had the best-rated wine in Chile, the fourth-best wine in Spain and the eighth-best Argentine red wine, all by Robert Parker. We also have received 23 scores of 93 and higher by Parker, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.
AV: What's next for O. Fournier in Argentina, and the rest of the world?
JMOF: In Argentina we are focusing on a very interesting project, www.ofwinepartners.com, that allows private investors to purchase a small vineyard, which is maintained by us, and produce their own wine with their own label. We have sold over 40 percent of our properties in a bit more than a year. And we are seriously considering producing wine in the US. It is a terribly exciting country from a production and consumption point of view.
AV: We'll look forward to having you here! Thanks again for your time and for the wonderful wines. Salud!