Aesthetically, I have come to appreciate O. Fournier maybe more than any other winery in Mendoza. The dramatic architecture, cutting edge technology, glass enclosed restaurant, and art filled wine cellar have made the bodega here one of the most recognizable in Mendoza. During a visit to their Uco Valley winery in 2010 I found the team there to be surprisingly down to earth and approachable. Co-founder Jose Manuel and his wife Nadia Haron, the executive chef, were out chatting with the guests. Their daughter helped wait tables. This combination of elements all becomes reflected in the wine they produce. Jose Manuel Ortega Gil-Fournier was kind enough to answer a few questions for us:
New World Review: How did you decide on the Uco Valley for the location of the bodega?
Jose Manuel Ortega Gil-Fournier: When we started looking for a top wine region in Argentina with cool climate conditions, poor soils and a significant amount of old vineyards, we were adviced to look at the Uco Valley. We found exactly what we were looking for and time has proven it was the right decision for us. Nowadays, the Uco Valley is the premier wine valley in Argentina.
NWR: What is unique about Uco as opposed to Maipú?
JM: I would probably say that the Uco Valley provides some exceptional temperature conditions, with sunny and hot days but very cool nights during the summer. These conditions allow for more color and aromatic intensity and a higher degree of natural acidity. Soil profiles tend to be less heavy than the ones in Maipu.
NWR: When visiting O. Fournier, it becomes immediately apparent that as large and sophisitcated as the winery is, it is still very much a family operation. Your wife is the executive chef, your daughter waits tables, and you are there interacting with the visitors. Do you think having your family so involved in the winery an important part of the wine business?
JM: Not only it is important, it is essential. Wine is our life. I did not leave investment banking to start another career. I left investment banking to start another life. The fact that I have my family following me on my dream makes it even more fulfilling. I also hope my children can continue with this life.
NWR: Why is your Tempranillo so successful? Will other winemakers in Argentina begin to experiment with the grape in premium wines?
JM: When we produce wines, we do not look at what it is commercial. We look at what works best. Tempranillo is a lesser known and appreciated variety than others but it can certainly produce incredible high-quality wines. We also have found that Tempranillo works at its best when blended with Malbec. I am convinced that other wineries will follow but unfortunately there is still a high commercial component on varietal decisions.
NWR: I noticed you have a considerably large art collection in your wine cellar. Is that just for style or does art play a part in the aging process?
JM: I have always believed in art in all its forms. For me, enology is an art as well as gastronomy or architecture or painting. We want to express that love for art in as many ways possible. We also try to bring top art and benchmark ourselves with the best in the world with respect to all these categories.
NWR: In New York wine stores, I am seeing your Urban line appear more and more. Will the brand continue to expand in North America? Will we see more of your Alfa and B Crux wines here?
JM: We are very satisfied with how our Urban range is working mainly in New York. There is always room for improvement. A lot of the success in New York/New Jersey is due to the quality of our sales reps working for Tempranillo Inc., our distributor in those states. As the economy has improved, we have seen a significant increase in our higher-priced wines like Bcrux and Alfa Crux. We have also had a few very solid followers among the trade such as Buenos Ayres restaurant in Manhattan with our Alfa Crux Malbec. The fact that this particular wine was named “Best Malbec in Argentina” by the New York Times did not hurt.
NWR: What is next for O. Fournier?
JM: Who knows? Life is uncertain. There is clearly a corporate culture at O. Fournier that clearly transcends its founders. So if I dissapear tomorrow,the company will continue as it is with all the drive, passion and hope to produce high-quality, personality-driven wines in the best terroirs in the world.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.