Update Profile: Jorge Ordoñez

February 2006

This year we celebrate the 10th anniversary of La Tienda. As I look back over the past decade I find that one of my greatest satisfactions is the many personal relationships we have formed with the people in Spain with whom we work to provide the best of Spain to America. Almost without exception, the bonds my family and I have formed with each of them reaffirm my respect and love for the traditional Spanish culture. I may wax rhapsodic about the beauty of this venerable culture, but be assured it is based on the fact of our daily contact with our colleagues in Spain. 

Over the coming year I will be introducing you to several of our friends in Spain. The first one I would like you to meet is my friend Jorge Ordoñez, whose creative energy is only exceeded by his generosity and warmth. I first heard of Jorge when we were reconfiguring our wine presentation so that it would be easier for you to select an interesting wine. He suggested a couple of dozen high quality, high value wines which we now feature on our site in all price ranges. We were very pleased with his selections.

Last summer Jorge learned that Ruth and I were going to be at Fenway Park to celebrate our 40th anniversary at a Red Sox game (an inspired present from our sons). When he is not in Spain he lives in Greater Boston with his wife and two young children. So he invited us to join his family and close friends for a 4th of July cookout. When we arrived Jorge greeted us with a warm abrazo and a delighted smile as he ushered us into his kitchen, which was filled with the delicious aromas of Spanish cooking. He was in the midst of preparing fish as he would in his home in Andalucía. 

His wife Kathy introduced us to her mother and friends who were seated in the back yard at a long table overlooking the Charles River. Amidst lively conversation we enjoyed corn on the cob, Spanish delicacies, wedges of watermelon, superb wine and the company of their delightful young children Monica and Victor, along with a fine young man who had just graduated from high school. I cannot think of having a more enjoyable 4th of July, nor can I ever recall another time where we enjoyed such hospitality.

Jorge is from Málaga, along the Mediterranean coast of Southern Spain. He grew up working in his family wine distribution business, loading trucks, visiting wineries learning first hand all that there is to know about the wine business. When he went to the University of Córdoba he met his future wife Kathy, who was spending her junior year abroad in Spain. Their courtship spread over four years and involved hundreds of phone calls (much to the delight of Telefónica Telephone Company!) Eventually they married and settled in the Boston area where Kathy grew up. 

Of course, part of his heart was always in his beloved Spain and so, armed with his considerable knowledge of the wine making tradition and his understanding of the taste of Americans, he set out to visit the small family wineries he most respected. He sought to encourage them to be the pioneers in introducing the wonderful wines of Spain to his adopted country. When he began, Spanish wines were essentially unknown in America. Now, through partnership with these artisan vintners, these wines are recognized as among the best in the world, many earning scores in the 90's from wine connoisseur Robert Parker. 

This did not happen overnight, but was the fruit of his tireless dedication and unbounded energy. What became the Jorge Ordoñez Collection was not purely a matter of selecting the best wines with which he was familiar. He improved his selection of wines by earning the trust of traditional wine making families and assisting them as they adjusted to the modern taste - the wines themselves as well as their commercial presentation. 

There is a lot that goes into the bottle of wine you have on your table. In October Ruth and I, two novices, visited one of the wineries he recommended in the small town of Haro in La Rioja Alta. The bodega was founded 75 years ago, and the family tradition has continued through the founder's sons, Isaac and Manuel. 

Their accommodating assistant, Jesús Viguera, showed us how they make all of their oak barrels on site and told us of the process of rotating the vintage from one barrel to the next. He explained that they consider the shape and weight of the bottle, and even the quality of cork. The Muga family obtains their corks from a Portuguese family whom they have known for years. Some of their corks come from the bark on the branches of the cork tree, other corks are made from the bark of the trunk. Each source has its own qualities. The best are very dense, and exclude most outside atmospheric influences. To my astonishment, I learned that the individual cork for the best Muga wines may cost as much as $1 per bottle!

When we finished our tour we were ushered into the tasting room to sample four or five typical wines. Soon we were served a freshly prepared platter of huevos revueltos con chorizo (scrambled eggs and chorizo sausage) and were warmly greeted by Manu Muga, one of the sons and owners. 

While we were walking through the facility, Jesús spoke of Jorge Ordoñez with great respect. He said that Jorge was a man who expected their highly respected winery to meet the highest of standards. His visit was a serious event for which they prepared with great care. Each time he visits they find him a warm and gracious partner who has as much respect for them as they do for him. 

During a typical visit Jorge and one or two associates taste wine from many casks. They take careful notes about the subtle characteristics of the wine in each barrel. Finally they blend the wine: for example, he may select 45% of the juice of Tempranillo grapes in barrel #16, another 20% Tempranillo from barrel #26, 10% and 5% respectively of wine from Mazuelo grapes from casks #2 and 8, 10% from the Gracielo grapes in barrel #2. He blends them with the nose of a true oenophile, and finally might adjust the blend by adding a touch of Tempranillo from yet another barrel. The result: a new vintage of a particular wine is born. 

This indefatigable and unassuming man visits many bodegas in the course of each winter and spring. His goal is to promote the unique virtues of wine from the country that he loves, as well as to offer the many fine wines of his personal collection. His green monogram appears on every bottle of his collection. He impressed upon me that the future of Spanish wine production is in the grapes native to Spain, produced by artisans, and appreciated for their special qualities - not in high volume products. 

What I find most appealing about Jorge is his integrity, his lack of pretension and his joyful approach to life. When he recommends wines to La Tienda he does not list costly bottles of wine which might bring him more income. Instead he includes wines from across the spectrum which are good values for their price. He wants you to enjoy life through the wines of Spain. And, I must say, I find joy in his company. 

Tu amigo,