Tenuta di Ornellaia is an estate in the Bolgheri DOC DOC region on the Tuscan coast of Italy. It is located at the end of the Viale dei Cipressi, the celebrated column of cypress trees in Castagneto Carducci in Livorno province. However the name derives from ‘ornello’ which is an ash tree in Italian.
Owner: Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi (Tenute di Toscana) since 2005 when it bought the half share it did not own from Constellation Brands, the 50 percent stake that had belonged to Robert Mondavi (part of Constellation).
Background: Ornellaia was founded in 1981 by Marchesi Lodovico Antinori (Piero Antinori’s younger brother). Lodovico Antinori’s cousin by marriage, Mario Incisa della Rochetta who created the neighbouring Tenuta San Guido, whose flagship wine is Sassicaia (Ludovico’s mother was Marchese Niccolo Incisa della Rochetta’s sister-in-law). Lodovico Antinori bought 70ha of land, and followed the Sassicaia model by planting Bordeaux grape varieties both Cabernets, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and others, hiring André Tchelistcheff as his first winemaking consultant, the latter being one of the pioneers of quality California Cabernet (Nicolas Belfrage, 2001, p395). Lodovico also created a ‘space-age winery,’ (Nicolas Belfrage MW: 2001, p.395).
The first commercial vintage of Ornellaia was the successful 1985. To Ornellaia was subsequently added the 100% Merlot red, Masseto, as Pomerol’s Michel Rolland succeeded Tchelistcheff. In 1999 Lodovico sold a share of Ornellaia to Robert Mondavi. He sold the remaining 50% of Ornellaia in 2003 to the Frescobaldi family (with whom Mondavi had already started a Tuscan joint venture to produce the internationally styled Supertuscan Luce from Frescobaldi’s Castelgiocondo estate in Montalcino). In 2005 Constellation Brands, which had acquired Mondavi, sold the remaining 50% of Ornellaia to Frescobaldi. Meanwhile, in 2001 Lodovico, together with Piero Antinori, founded a new estate in Bibbona north of Bolgheri, Tenuta di Biserno, where Rolland is involved in the production of Bordeaux-style wines.
Staff: Former General Manager: Leonardo Raspini. | Commercial Director: Alex Belson. | Winemaker: Thomas Duroux (from Bordeaux).
Winemakers: 198?–199? Tibor G’al (Hungarian-born winemaker; met Lodovico in Eger, Hungary when Lodovico was looking at investing in Hungary). Michel Rolland was involved from 1991.
Petit Verdot: Julia Harding MW (08 Aug 2013) points out that Petit Verdot was not authorised in Bolgheri until 2000. The first vintage of Ornellaia that included Petit Verdot was 2003. There seemed to be an implicit assumption among the tasters In London, myself included, that the small amount of this variety was a sort of secret ingredient bringing a little magic, as it can do in Bordeaux when it is fully ripe. But, just as in Bordeaux, when the other varieties are both ripe and well structured, Petit Verdot is not really needed. Heinz explained that although this variety ripens regularly, they find that any more than 5-6% in Ornellaia is too much, making the wine rather rustic. They intend to decrease the proportion in future. He was rather more enthusiastic about Cabernet Franc, saying that if they had the opportunity (ie suitable land to plant), they would go for more Cabernet Franc rather than Petit Verdot.
Heinz felt that it showed the entire history of the property, where Sangiovese never really flourished in the way that the Bordeaux varieties have done. They have been making a second wine, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornallaia, since 1997, predominantly from the fruit of younger vines.
Vineyard consultants: 1985-1988: Federico Staderini. 1992 – 1995: Michele Satta. 1995: Danny Schuster. 1996 onwards: Danny Schuster and Andrea Paoletti. 2001-2013: Leonardo Raspini and consultants Danny Schuster and Andrea Paoletti. Viticulturist Mario Fregoni was also involved. Other consultants include oenologist Jacques Puisais.
Vineyards: 64ha (160 acres) of land of which 83ha (207 acres) of vines on two vineyard locations, the original vineyard called Ornellaia, where the winery is located, and Bellaria, just to the east of the small town of Bolgheri, on very diverse but primarily marine, alluvial and volcanic soils (Parker, 2005, p528). | 5,000-7,000 vines per ha (Parker, 2005, p528). 2018 115ha of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
Winery: The winery is near the original Ornellaia vineyard. It was seen as Napa-esque because André Tchelistcheff designed the winery and cellars. The winery was pentagonal shape made of steel, concrete and wood. The fermentation vats were a mix of stainless steel vats and open-top wooded fermenters, with French barrels for ageing.
Winemakers: 1981-1990: André Tchelistcheff. | 1985-1988: Federico Staderini and André Tchelistcheff. | 1989-1990: Tibor Gal and André Tchelistcheff. | 1991-1997: Tibor Gal and Michel Rolland. | 1998 – 2000: Wine maker Andrea Giovannini and consultant Michel Rolland. | 2001-2003: wine maker Thomas Duroux and consultant Michel Rolland. | 2004: Leonardo Raspini + Anna Martens and consultant Michel Rolland. | 2005 – 2013: Axel Heinz and consultant Michel Rolland.
Pian de Susini: This is Poggio alle Gazze’s sibling. 80% Trebbiano bought in, plus 20% SB estate. Jacques Puisais advised on this variety.
Poggio alle Gazze: Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier. The name means ‘magpie hill’. 1988 Debut vintage overseen by Federico Staderini. Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.
Ornellaia Bianco: 2015 Released.
Variazioni In Rosso: IGT Toscana Rosso
Le Volte: Toscana Rosso.
Bolgheri Rosso DOC, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia: The second wine. It originated out of a particularly rigorous selection of grapes for the 1997 vintage Ornellaia,’ (Nicolas Belfrage, 2001, p396). | 2004 Bolgheri. 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. Superb vintage, according to current winemaker Axel Heinz. Textbook conditions. 51 separate base wines produced from different parcels. 17 months in oak, with blending after 12 months. 25% new barrels. | 2010 Bolgheri DOC, 45% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petit Verdot. Unusual vintage. Cool and late ripening, so less Mediterranean than most. Malo completed in barrel (25% new). Bottled April 2012. 15 months’ ageing but not blended until the separate components had had 12 months in barrel.
Label: Since the 2006 vintage, the Vendemmia d’Artista project saw Ornellaia labels decorated by an original artwork. | 2015 Artwork by Shirin Neshat (an American artist). The artist created a site-specific art installation, plus a personalised edition of 111 large-size bottle labels, and designed an artistic label, one of which is in every 6-bottle box of 750ml Ornellaia.
Blend: The presence of small percentages of Petit Verdot provides a talking point.
Vintages: 1985 Debut vinetage. | 1990 Vino da Tavola. 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc. Hot end to the growing season. Part fermented in wood, part in steel. Finished malo in barrel (40% new). 15 months in barrel, 16 months in bottle prior to release.| 1991 Vino da Tavola. | 1992 Vino da Tavola. | 1993 Vino da Tavola. | 1994 Vino da Tavola. | 1995 Vino da Tavola. | 1996 Vino da Tavola. | 1997 Bolgheri Superiore | 1998 Bolgheri Superiore. | 1999 Bolgheri Superiore. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc. Harvest first week in Sept to the start of Oct. Very uniform ripeness. Part fermented in wood and partly in tank, malo in barrel (60% new). Parcels kept separate for the first 12 months in barrel and then another 6 months in barrel after blending. | 2001 Bolgheri Superiore. 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc. Quite a lot of crop thinning early July, especially for the Merlot. Harvest early Sept to 5 Oct. Part fermented in wooden fermentors, part in tank. Transferred to barrel for malo (70% new). 18 months in barrel, blended after 12. | 2004 Bolgheri Superiore. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. Textbook vintage, high yields kept in check by regular bunch thinning. Early summer mild and moderate; hot, sunny August. Harvest from 2 September to end of first week in October. | 2007 Bolgheri Superiore. 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot. Early budbreak, mild spring. Hot, dry July and cooler August. Picked 28 Aug to end of first week in Oct. Mild, sunny September. Fermented in steel but malo mainly in barrel (70% new), then components aged 12 months separately, blended and aged for a further 6 months in barrel. 12 months in bottle prior to release. | 2008 Bolgheri Superiore. 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. Summer 2008 initially very hot then mid Sept (during Merlot harvest) there was a complete change and huge drop in temps – below 20 ºC until end Oct. 10-15 days’ post-ferment maceration. Malo mainly in barriques (70% new). Blended after 12 months in barrel, then another 8 months in oak. | 2009 Bolgheri Superiore. 14.5%. 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. Hot dry summer, with hot winds hastening the ripening, especially for Merlot. Rain in mid September gave the later-ripening varieties a breathing spell. Harvest 26 Aug to 6 Oct. 20-25 days’ post-ferment maceration. Malo mainly in barriques (70% new). Blended after 12 months in barrel, then another 6 months in oak. | 2010 Bolgheri Superiore. 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot. Harvest mid Sept to 12 Oct. Malo mostly in barrel (70% new), 18 months in oak, blended after 12 months.
Master: ‘Much as Ornellaia (the wine) has hearts, the real queen here is the varietal Merlot called Masseto, which as a prototype of the now rapidly expanding school of outstanding Pomerol-like Merlots of central Italy, from its first release in 1986, became an icon in Italian and indeed international wine circles,’ (Nicolas Belfrage: 2001, p395).
1986 Debut. 100% Merlot.
Sweet white wines
Ornus, Costa Toscana Vendemmia Tardiva: Made from late picked Petit Manseng.
Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia
Via Bolgherese, 191 (Località Ornellaia, 191
I-57020 Bolgheri (LI = Livorno), Italy
Tel+39 0565.71811 | www.ornellaia.com
GPS Coordinates: 43.211526, 10.611459
Jonathan Goodall, Out on his own, Wine & Spirit international, Oct 1994, p51.
Julia Harding MW, ‘Ornellaia celebrates 25 vintages,’ jancisrobinson.com 08 Aug 2013.
Nicolas Belfrage MW, From Brunello to Zibibbo: The Wines of Tuscany, Central and Southern Italy (London, 2001).
Oz Clarke 2015, Oz Clarke Wine A-Z (Pavilion, 2015), p227.
Robert M Parker Jnr, ‘The World’s greatest Wine Estates’, Robert Parker Jnr, (Dorling Kindersley), 2005
Susan Low, ‘Foreign Correspondence’, Decanter, October 1993, p71-72.
OCW: 2015, p.530 by Walter Speller