MAULE: O.FOURNIER, PREMIUM TERROIR WINES (1)
The O.Fournier group (Ortega Gil Fournier) was founded in 2000. In a very short time, this Spanish group succeeded to produce (super) premium wines in Spain (Ribera del Duero), Argentina (Mendoza) and … Chile (Maule, San Antonio). In total, the group owns more than 435 ha of land, of which 160 ha of old, high quality vineyards. For any other new-coming winery in Chile, it could sound quite arrogant when O.Fournier pretends to aim “one of the three best wineries to produce premium wines” in Chile. But for O.Fournier, regarding the results in Spain and Argentina, it is definitely a high goal but not impossible. What about Chile? I had an appointment at the Casino Hotel in Talca with the young winemaker of O.Fournier Chile, just to find out how ‘good’ those wines really are.
O.Fournier La Higuera Vineyards in Maule
Dutch surprise in Maule
I knew of course that the O.Fournier wines were sold in the Netherlands, but no one told me that the talented young winemaker in Maule and San Antonio was himself from the Netherlands! Every wine aficionado in the Netherlands knows about ‘our’ famous Dutch oenologists, Kees van Leeuwen (Cheval Blanc) and Gerhard Horstink (Wine & Science, Oinos). There are also some well-known Dutch winery owners like Mijndert Pon (Bodega Salentein, Mendoza) and his brother Ben Pon (Bernardus, California) or Eric Albada Jelgersma (Château Giscours, Margaux). We do have also some Dutch owners of smaller wineries; a few of them really make the wines, without being officially oenologist, a few of them just pretend to be the winemaker, “marketing oblige” as the French say. There are, however more Dutch oenologists: one living and working in France, Vincent Menheere, an other one happening to be my guide and host during this O.Fournier visit in Maule!
This young oenologist was born in the typical Dutch city of Monnickendam in 1974. After a classical secondary high school study in Amsterdam, Meinard-Jan went to the Hotel School in The Hague. Holiday travels in Chile, Argentina and Peru let him discover a complete different world. After one year study, he left the hotel school and started a new life in Chile, a country that really fascinated him. Argentina and Peru were nice too, but the first was too expensive and the second one too poor. At that time, Meinard-Jan didn’t speak any Spanish at all, but with his French, Italian and 5 years of Latin, he learned it very quickly.
Thanks to his one year study at the hotel school, he found a job in a Chilean hotel, but that wasn’t really what he wanted. His following job as administrator of a restaurant and shop in a petrol station on the Ruta 68, wasn’t either. While working there (he even became partly owner of it, and still is!) he made out what he would really like to do, working in the wine business. He started with spending his holidays as harvester for Viña Carmen and Alvaro Espinoza’s Antiyal. His goal was clear, he wanted and would become an oenologist! But not only as a winemaker; he also wanted to be agronomist-viticulturist. He contacted the French university of Montpellier; they suggested him to study the first 3 years at the Dutch Wageningen University. Well, at that time, Wageningen and wine… were not exactly a tempting idea. So, he stayed in Chile, where he studied at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile / Facultad de Agronomia y Ingeneria Forestal in Santiago. Thanks to his extraordinary motivation, Meinard-Jan became one of the very best students they ever had at the Agronomy faculty!
In 2007, with his oenology and agronomy papers in the pocket, he was still not yet satisfied. During his study, he was intern at Casa Marín (nowadays one of the quality toppers in Chile). They were happy with him and proposed him to work there as oenologist. But Meinard-Jan wanted to broaden his horizon after 12 years in Chile. He realized that he was 32 and needed to be quick in making the career he had in mind. So, he started a Master of Viticulture and Oenology in Montpellier. His first teacher on the very first day was the famous Dutch oenologist Kees van Leeuwen. Meinard-Jan learned a lot from him. The second year was in Geisenheim. During his internships in Burgundy (Domaine du Clos de Tart) and Germany (Weingut Dr. Bürklin-Wolf, Pfalz), he focussed on pinot noir and cool climate viticulture, thanks to his mentors Stefan Dorst (Bürklin-Wolf) and Hans Schultz (Geisenheim).
Back to Chile with his Master diploma, he went on with his specialization on pinot noir at Cono Sur, the biggest producer of pinot noir worldwide! Since July 2010, Meinard-Jan is working as oenologist for the Spanish Ortega Gil Fournier family owned group. Besides that the quality aims of the O.Fournier group were appealing to him, it was a challenge to work with Spanish/Argentinian people in Chile. The O.Fournier ‘dueños’ (owners) do not have so much prejudices about what is possible and where from the point of view of viticulture. Their wines are very specific, aimed on quality, based on terroir and old vineyards. The results are nearly ‘un-Chilean’ fascinating… But there was one more thing that tickled Meinard-Jan… O.Fournier bought a little vineyard in San Antonio, just close to Casa Marín, and guess what? It should be soon planted with … pinot noir! If we believe Meinard-Jan, and I certainly do, this young baby might grow up and become a big star! Will be followed…