The state of Spanish wine in the United States in 1987, when Jorge Ordoñez arrived, was bleak, epitomized mostly by cheap sherry and tired Rioja gathering dust on wine shops’ lower shelves. Having grown up in a family wine distribution business in Malaga, Spain, Ordoñez knew the ins and outs of the wine business –from loading trucks to evaluating barrel samples to making deals. He quickly recognized the potential for Spanish wine in America for what it was. But in order for his vision to succeed, changes had to occur on both sides of the Atlantic.
On the American side, a lifetime’s worth of misperception had to be overturned. The conventional wisdom had it that Spanish was pale, flat, low quality, funky and cheap. Ordonez knew that some of this resulted factors external to the wines, such as poor storage and transport conditions and inept marketing. He revered the wines of his homeland and was one of the few to recognize the vast international potential of its old vines and dry-farmed vineyards. But, seeing the trends toward modernity in other countries, he also recognized that Spanish winemaking itself needed revitalization: some traditional methods needed updating, yields needed to be lowered, cleanliness promoted. Ordonez’s modus operandi was to preserve the wines’ heritage and Spanish character while coaxing them into line with the late-20th-century palate. There was risk involved. Instead of pandering to internationalist trends, Ordoñez took the bold step of challenging the American palate by being the first to introduce exotic wines like Albarino, Txakoli and Godello to a market that knew little more than sangria.
Ordonez became known as an obsessive crusader for the careful handling of wine. Likewise, he brazenly demanded major improvements in the method of transporting and storing the wine before it reached the consumer. To that end, Fine Estates From Spain was the first company to have a refrigerated warehouse in Spain and refrigerated shipping and proper storage from wineries, transporters and merchants. An uphill battle for a decade before the market perception slowly began to change, it wasn’t until the late 1990s that Spanish wines were finally recognized as a top quality product. Yet even as Americans were just becoming aware of names like Ribera del Duero and Rias Baixas, Ordonez was already pioneering in new areas where potential was vast but winemaking tradition was rustic. In unheralded regions like Jumilla, Calatayud and Montsant, Ordonez partnered with his most talented winemaking partners to create new wines where none existed, wines infused with Spanish spirit and terroir, yet firmly in line with modern taste sensibilities. And ultimately that has become the new perception of Spanish wine–authentic yet modern. In creating a market for Spanish wine where once there was none, and in helping Spanish winegrowers believe that their wines deserve a place alongside the greatest wines of Europe and America.
Jorge has quite a list of achievements; twice named one of 20 wine personality of the year by Robert Parker he was awarded The Golden Grape Award in 1997 by Food & Wine Magazine and in Spain he was a given the Premier de Nacional de Gastronomia de Victor de la Serna by the Academia Española de Gastronomia in 1997 as well. In 2008 Jorge was named the Luminary of the Year at the Nantucket Wine Festival, the first time ever the award has been bestowed.