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May 30, 2024updated 01 Jun 2024 2:49pm

2021 Ornellaia Vendemmia d’Artista: La Generosità

The Bolgheri estate has launched its latest collaboration between the worlds of art and wine.

By Robin Lee

Robin Lee appraises the latest vintage from Ornellaia, and its special-edition label by Italian multidisciplinary artist, Marinella Senatore.

A not uncommon phenomenon is when two people, most often two women, pretend they are best friends because it is useful or necessary, even though they really dislike each other intensely and are in fact deadly enemies and rivals. This kind of friend is known as a frenemy. Are Wine and Art a good example of frenemies? You see them all the time hanging out together, but are they really friends?

At most art openings there is usually wine, Champagne, or at least warm Prosecco, so I was very surprised and intrigued that at this year’s Venice Biennale, at the best-attended, most chic opening—that of Caspar Williams at Palazzo Soranzo Cappello—only water was on offer for the guests. The Vendemmia d’Artista series from Ornellaia has been going now since 2006, but if wine is now off the menu at the Venice Biennale, one must wonder: Has Art already dumped Wine as a friend and Wine just doesn’t know it yet?

Inspired by natural elements

Last year, the 2020 edition of Vendemmia d’Artista had a label designed by Joseph Kosuth (see WFW 80, 2023, p.94), and although the remarkable artwork that Kosuth produced was even more valuable than the wine inside the bottle, it does not seem to have made much of an impression on the art world. According to Sotheby’s, the Salmanazar sold for £27,500, including the commission—well beneath the pre-sale estimate of £30,000–80,000. This year, the 2021 Vendemmia d’Artista edition has a label design by Italian multidisciplinary artist Marinella Senatore (Sotheby’s pre-sale estimate £15,000–40,000), and the situation may be somewhat the reverse.

Ornellaia’s 2021 artist, Marinella Senatore. Photography courtesy of Ornellaia.

The word that has been chosen by Ornellaia to describe the 2021 vintage is Generosità (“Generosity”). Senatore says she was inspired by “natural elements, like the sea, wind, and stars that merge with the energy of the people who work here and create correlations that are declarations of awareness.” The labels of the 750ml bottles, double magnums, and imperials are a series of collages that feature the hands of the people who work at Ornellaia as a visual device. The Salmanazar is decorated with an illuminated line from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” realized in cold neon so that it does not impact the wine inside the bottle. In my opinion, the bottle adorned with neon words feels derivative of other artists’ works—Tracey Emin and Joseph Kosuth himself come to mind—and appropriating the words of Whitman in this context may seem a little lazy. The collage labels on the double magnums and imperials are more successful in my view, and they are also aesthetically pleasing, which is an important consideration in their favor.

Giovanni Geddes da Filicaja, who recently stepped down after 24 years as CEO of Ornellaia, has been the driving force of the estate, and the Vendemmia d’Artista is his brainchild. He announced his retirement last year at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice, where Ornellaia has hosted an event every year until this year. All good things come to an end. Geddes is the one who saw the advantages to be gained by using art as a marketing tool and a charity fundraiser, and it was he who had the idea of linking Ornellaia to the Guggenheim Museum by supporting its Mind’s Eye program, aimed at encouraging the blind and partially sighted to experience art with verbal descriptions and sensory guides.

Change in a universal language

Shortly before this issue was going to press, it was announced that Geddes is being succeeded as CEO of Gruppo Marchesi Frescobaldi by Fabrizio Dosi, COO since 2019. But the Frescobaldi family might still decide to influence the image of Ornellaia a little more from now on. Although Lamberto Frescobaldi, current president of Marchesi Frescobaldi, is the 18th generation of his family to be in the wine business, he insisted when we met, “I do not like tradition. Tradition is like the comfort zone of people who fear the future. Change is the power in the world. If my family had a fear of change, we would not be here.”

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Meanwhile Art and Wine need to see if they have it in them to become real friends. Art can be beautiful on a label, especially when there is a true connection with the wine. Likewise, it would be sad if the long, though sometimes inglorious, tradition of wine at gallery openings were to come to a permanent end. As gestures of goodwill and generosity toward art, maybe Ornellaia could donate wine to up-and-coming and often cash-strapped curators at the next Venice Biennale to be served at their openings, as well as letting the blind and partially sighted taste the wine. Marinella Senatore says her objective was to “translate the character of the wine into a universal language.” And wine itself is exactly that—a universal language—which can be especially inspiring, perhaps even revelatory, for blind or partially sighted people, since its appreciation is not reliant on sight, and it engages all the other senses—especially smell and taste, but also touch and even sound—to create and share emotion.


2021 Ornellaia

A dense and muscular wine, the 2021 Ornellaia opens with tantalizing mulberry, myrtle, and cassis, edging toward box, bay leaf, bonfire smoke, and hedgerow. Savory wild plum, Karkar Island cocoa, and tingling hints of conifer are matched with lively acidity and dense tannins like shiny river pebbles, polished and round. There is a sweet, dark, piercing center of pigeon blood deepening into charcoal black espresso, pencil shavings, black pepper, and lapsang. The hefty 15% ABV is gracefully integrated, and the wine lingers, drifting in a garland of savory herb extracts, sweet camphor, and sandalwood. 2025–50. | 94

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