[ Editor’s note: This piece was originally written for my old Playboy.com gig, was purchased, but due (I think) to staff turnover there, was never published. I’ve attempted multiple times to buy this back from PB, because I really liked how it turned out, but never heard back from them. So… I’m reprinting it here, because it seemed appropriate for April Fools’ Day, and it was fun to write so I really wanted it so see the light of day at some point. Enjoy! ]
When you’re standing at the bottom of the hill upon which the ultra-modern winery of O. Fournier is perched, as the base of the mountains in La Consulta, two explanations for the elaborate construction spring immediately to mind.
1) The O. Fournier building is actually an extra-terrestrial scouting ship that landed in Argentina, got sidetracked by asado barbeques, half-naked girls and soccer, thus abandoning its mission deciding to stay and make wine.
2) O. Fournier founder, Spaniard José Manuel Ortega Gil-Fournier, is actually a Bond super-villain, the Argentine winery being a front for his fiendish plans to hold the planet hostage to his whims. Clearly the huge hollow columns supporting the winery house some sort of missile silos?
It’s easier to daydream like this when you’re standing in the dusk half-light as the sun sets behind the mountains, and you’ve already had multiple asados and wine tastings that same day.
Ortega, a stout man with a slightly ominous beard and small, round glasses, looks every bit the part of potential international evil mastermind bent on world domination when he greets me at the winery. He’s impeccably polite, but slightly self-absorbed and there’s no mistaking the undercurrent of agitation he feels at me being a bit (okay, more like several hours) delayed due to my lunch asado, which means the diner asado will be even later than planned (note: do not visit Argentina if you dislike eating the equivalent of several cows’ worth of meat in a week).
Ortega speaks in grand terms as we tour the O. Fournier complex. “It doesn’t make sense to talk about ‘Argentina’ wine now,” he says defiantly, “it’s too broad. The ‘New World’ of wine is old enough now.” The passion shows in his eyes when he says it; do I detect the air of malignant narcissism that could serve as back story for a Bond bad guy’s motivations? Better be careful with this guy…
Ortega’s a former bank exec who then got into winemaking, so we know that he probably had some serous cash to get the winery going. “The money-printing machine broke in 2007,” he quips, “so everyday now I check if the banks own the winery, or I own it.” Ah, more motivation? Revenge on the world’s banks? This guy’s definitely an evil mastermind. From here on out, we’re calling him Dr. O (Fournier)…