Long considered a symbol of Italian excellence, Ornellaia is one of the country’s leading wine estates and a name that has long sought to distinguish itself and its wines through the art of storytelling. Founded in 1981 in the small hamlet of Bolgheri near the Tuscan Coast, Ornellaia is recognized for producing some of the best “Super Tuscans” in the area: Bordeaux-style red wines that are refined and elegant, like their French cousins, while remaining thoroughly rooted in Italy’s enological traditions and distinctive terrain.
Ornellaia was originally established by the Marchese Lodovico Antinori and is now managed by the Frescobaldi family which has sought to honor and raise the profile of the Bolgheri area. This relatively young wine region has risen to fame thanks to its fertile soil conditions and microclimate, tempered by its proximity to the Tyrrhenian Sea, which help produce fresh, velvety wines that age well and are full of character.
“Our vines were planted from the beginning to make an important wine – and communicating this aspect has been a central focus for our estate,” explains Giovanni Geddes da Filicaja, CEO of Ornellaia. “This starts with respect for the territory and ensuring sustainable winemaking practices, but also extends to how we present ourselves, and our wines, to the world.”
Axel Heinz, the Estate Director and leading enologist, put it succinctly when he said: “It was always important for us to have someone translate the story behind our wine.” This is precisely the thinking that helped Ornellaia launch its Vendemmia d’Artista project, a testament to how art can help us interpret, understand and communicate the ephemeral spirit of wine.
Each year, Ornellaia invites an international artist to create a series of limited-edition wine labels for the new vintage of the estate’s flagship wine, Bolgheri DOC Superiore Rosso – a cuvée of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. “The idea behind the project is to convey the singularity of each harvest and the unique character of each wine,” explains Heinz. He personally selects a word to describe the personality of the year’s wine which the artist is then free to interpret.
In past editions, Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto created a label for “Celebration” in 2010; American artist William Kentridge interpreted “Charisma” in 2015; and Persian artist Shirin Neshat was invited to convey “Tension” in 2016. The artists spend time at Ornellaia’s estate in order to transmit the essence of the winery, territory and wine in their site-specific works.
The wine is later auctioned through Sotheby’s online platform and the proceeds are donated to support art projects around the world. Beginning in 2019, Ornellaia signed a three-year partnership with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in New York to raise money for its Mind’s Eye program which helps blind and low-vision people experience art. Last year the wine auction raised $312,000.
This year, the 2017 vintage was named “Solare”, or Radiant, because it was one of the hottest, driest years Tuscany had ever experienced. “The sun was the leading protagonist of this year,” says Heinz. “Historically, a year filled with sunshine was appreciated by winemakers, we are now more cautious about our rapidly changing climate. To preserve the strong and opulent personality of this wine, we had to apply the utmost care and attention from the vineyard to cellar – more so than in a normal vintage. But the result is a harmonious wine with well-balanced acidity and flavors of black berries and licorice. It is generous, open, sumptuously Mediterranean and very pleasant to drink.”
Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno was invited to interpret Ornellaia’s 2017 vintage. Known for his interactive exhibitions and focus on sustainability, he sought to express the connection between the Sun and the Earth through an elegant line of labels that feature solar and lunar eclipses. The limited-edition labels adorn a total of 111 large-format bottles: a salmanzar, 10 imperials and 100 double magnums – along with a number of standard .75 ml bottles. The lineup was presented during a press conference in Florence in February to coincide with the opening of Tomás Saraceno’s exhibition “Aria” at Palazzo Strozzi.