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Jorge Ordoñez: Spanish Wine’s Leading Importer Expounds On The Category’s Rise

October 26, 2011

Jorge Ordoñez, owner of Dedham, Massachusetts-based Fine Estates From Spain, is a pioneer in the modernization of Spanish wine and the driving force behind more than 130 wines from 40 Spanish wineries in the U.S. market. Ordoñez wears many hats, working as consultant, marketer, broker, blender and winemaker. He partners with established winemakers to create unique wines, while also owning a Spanish winery near Málaga, his hometown. Ordoñez is credited with launching a wine revolution in Spain and creating the market for modern-style Spanish wines in the United States. Wineries under the Jorge Ordoñez Selections umbrella include Bodegas Borsao, Tarima, Juan Gil, Avanthia, Alto Moncayo, Volver, Venta Morales, Muga, Emilio Moro and Sierra Cantabria. If one were to tally the bottles of Spanish wine in the U.S. bearing Ordoñez’s name on the back label, it would total approximately 300,000 nine-liter cases. He travels constantly, but Shanken News Daily recently caught up with Ordoñez to talk about Spanish wine’s evolution in America.

SND: How did you begin importing Spanish wine into the U.S., and how did things go in the beginning?

Ordoñez: I come from a family of wine and gourmet food wholesalers in Málaga, Spain, so I grew up in the wine business. My wife is from Boston, and when we settled in Massachusetts in 1987, I figured I’d sell Spanish wines. I started with the basics and learned by trial and error. Back then, the market for Spanish wines was simplistic and inexpensive. Most of the wine arrived in poor condition, due to careless transportation and storage. The American perception of Spanish wines was that they were oxidized and flat, and there was some truth to it.

SND: You take on many roles in the wine business and oversee a variety of projects. How would you describe your overall business?

Ordoñez: I represent wineries in which I have no financial interest, as well as others in which I do. But two of every three bottles I sell, I blend myself.

SND: You used to have a larger portfolio. At one point you were representing 75 wineries, but now you work with about 40. Why did you downsize the portfolio, and are you still the top Spanish wine importer in the U.S. market?

Ordoñez: I couldn’t control the quality of all those wines, so I cut back. For some importers, more is better, but making wine is hard work. We spend a small fortune on wine analysis. But in Spanish table wine, I’m still bigger than anyone else.

SND: Why do you work with so many other players instead of simply importing the wines yourself? The wines you blend and market are handled by a number of companies like Tempranillo Inc., Giuliana Imports and others….

Ordoñez: It’s a way to go directly to different importers around the country and minimize handling and costs. Using a number of importers gives us faster arrival in the marketplace. Every container of my wine leaving Bilbao is refrigerated from March 15 to November 15—in every price category. For me, all consumers are equal, and everybody has the right to drink a great $8 bottle of wine that’s been properly transported.

SND: How has the market for Spanish wine changed in the U.S.?

Ordoñez: There’s been an increase in quality across the board, there’s more diversity, and prices are right. I brought the first Albariño into the U.S., in 1991. I also brought in the first wine from the Chacolí region and the first Godello and Monastrell varietals. It was difficult at first to introduce these wines to the American consumer, but today they’re considered categories. Spain makes a wine for every palate. The U.S. market has become very advanced, and today Americans know Spanish wine regions better than most Spaniards.

SND: How is the currency situation impacting your business?

Ordoñez: The high-end wines are suffering. The euro exchange rate has hurt us. Meanwhile, gasoline, oil and the general cost of transport are all adding to the price.

SND: How is Spanish wine perceived in terms of value?

Ordoñez: You can get an outstanding bottle of Spanish wine for $8 or an incredible bottle for $100, because Spain has such a huge range. People can spend $15 for a wine that tastes like a $30 wine.

SND: Many people associate Jorge Ordoñez with your graphic wine labels, which are now considered synonymous with new-style Spanish wines. What made you gravitate toward that style of labeling?

Ordoñez: People are very brand-oriented in Europe, but in the U.S. it’s completely different. American consumers like to taste different wines. They identify wines by the label, and that’s especially important off-premise, where you can lose customers if they can’t remember the wine’s name. You might have the best wine in the world, but without the right label it will fail.

SND: What advice would you give to the retail tier—off-premise and on-premise—on selling your wines?

Ordoñez: It’s more important to classify them by region than varietal. The wine’s provenance is crucial. On wine lists, break them out by region, just like with French wines. I don’t expect diners to know all of Spain’s wine regions, but they can ask the sommelier about the differences between Rioja and Priorat. Spanish wines are very food-friendly, mainly because they have great acidity.

SND: Many importers say their Spanish wines sell better on the East Coast than on the West Coast. Do you agree?

Ordoñez: The East Coast is bigger, but we sell in all markets—including California, Hawaii and Florida. We also do well in Texas and Illinois. Spanish wines are everywhere, and it’s about time.

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