Picking grapes at Ornellaia, 25th DOC Bolgheri Anniversary
by Ronan Sayburn MS
Head of Wine, Ronan Sayburn MS was recently in Tuscany. He’s now sharing with us this exceptional experience!
“I was recently in Tuscany to spend a few days harvesting grapes at Ornellaia in the coastal region of Bolgheri. Mid-August is early time for vintage, but we were harvesting early-ripening Merlot following a hot summer. We started early to avoid the scorching Tuscan sun and many hours were spent at the sorting table picking out green stems, under-ripe berries and ladybirds.
This area was made famous when in 1944, Mario Incisa della Rochetta took the radical move of planting Cabernet Sauvignon grapes at his property the Tenuta San Guido, following his appreciation of the wines of Bordeaux. The vineyard they first cultivated was so full of stones that the wine was named Sassicaia (Sasso – being derived from the Tuscan term for stony). As it was made from French and not Italian varieties the wine was classified as a basic Vino di Tavola (table wine) but was soon referred to by journalists as Vino di Favola (mythical, fairy wine). More wines that included French varieties followed such as Tignanello, Guado al Tasso and Ornellaia until eventually the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) Bolgheri was created in 1994 to reward these exceptional wines. And is now the Italian equivalent to Pauillac in terms of prestige and quality estates.
Ornellaia has an interesting history, having been started by Ludovico Antinori (brother of Piero from Solaia), planted in 1981 and producing its first vintage in 1985. The Mondavi family of Napa took a part share in 1999, then bought the whole estate in 2002, then immediately brought in the Frescobaldi family as a partner. When the Robert Mondavi brand was taken over by Constellation in 2005 the Frescobaldi family bought the remainder and are majority shareholders to this day.
It is a 95ha property whose wine is based on a Cabernet Bordeaux blend. The 7ha Merlot vineyard of Masseto was part of the estate but now has its own separate winery. A great second wine Serre Nuove is made at Ornellaia along with the white Poggio alle Gazze. Axel Heinz is the long term winemaker here.
For the anniversary a stunning dinner for 750 was held with tables laid along the Viale dei Cipressi (Cypress Avenue) that stretches in a straight line for 2.5km from the coast into the town of Bolgheri. The great and good of the region were there along with Jancis Robinson MW (a 67 Pall Mall member who needs no introductions) and we were served a great dinner along with a selection of 500 wines”.