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June 26, 2023updated 06 Oct 2023 1:25pm

2020 Ornellaia Vendemmia d’Artista: The medium is the message

Robin Lee on the Bolgheri estate's latest artistic release.

By Robin Lee

The Ornellaia Vendemmia d’Artista project, now in its 15th edition, has been released with a label by American artist Joseph Kosuth. Titled La Proporzione, it may be the finest in the series so far, suggests Robin Lee.

An artist’s label is not in itself a new or original idea. There are many other wine estates with a close affiliation with a certain artist or art in general. It is also no secret that artists’ labels, especially when created by great artists, can add value and attract collectors. Artists’ labels can be beautiful, meaningful, and unique; examples are the exquisite and poignant labels of Domaine de Trevallon in Les Baux de Provence, the ground-breaking Art Series of Leeuwin Estate in Australia or Castello Romitorio in Montalcino, whose labels are by the owner, the artist Sandro Chia. Mouton Rothschild’s famous artists’ labels dating back to 1924 were the first and the original inspiration. Bordeaux estates had always suffered from bad sales in bad vintages, but the genius of the Mouton artist labels is that they inspired collectors to buy every year.

For the Vendemmia d’Artista, the Ornellaia winemaker assigns each vintage a single word, which becomes the artist’s brief for the special artist’s label. For the 2020 vintage, the word is La Proporzione: proportion. “This year, nature and man have combined to form a perfect relationship between vine and thought in the just proportions of elegance, power, and complexity,” said Axel Heinz, who was until recently estate director of Ornellaia.

The selection of the artists is not made by Ornellaia but is outsourced to a team of external professional curators who have worked closely with Ornellaia since the project was initiated in 2009. The curators, both Italian, have worked hard to elevate the Vendemmia d’Artista program to the highest level.

Every year, the large-format bottles with unique, special labels created by that year’s chosen artist have been auctioned by Sotheby’s for the benefit of an art institution and charity, which brings prestige to Ornellaia, as well as the chance for the executive management to rub shoulders with wealthy art collectors who might be attracted to Ornellaia. For the past five years, the art institution has not changed, and there has been a corporate partnership with the Guggenheim Museum, which is now itself a fashionable global brand, and the Guggenheim has hosted Ornellaia for the Vendemmia d’Artista gala at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice. The funds raised from Sotheby’s auction of the special formats benefit the Guggenheim’s “Mind’s Eye” program for the blind and partially sighted.

Art is not easy. It will not please everyone—and this is true of good art, bad art, and everything in between. The more fully one engages with art, the greater the risk, and the greater the reward. Ornellaia has fully engaged with art and is to be commended for doing so. The Ornellaia Vendemmia d’Artista series is not banal, meaningless, and safe. Instead, it is very interesting and valuable.

Joseph Kosuth is one of the world’s greatest living artists, and the work he has produced for Ornellaia is conceptual, visually arresting, thought-provoking, and very beautiful. I saw the Kosuth label at Ornellaia in real life in all its different versions for the different formats that will be auctioned, as well as the permanent installation that will remain at Ornellaia, on the same day that Vinitaly was showing the world the famous, lascivious, gorgeous, and outrageous Caravaggio Bacchus that they borrowed for the occasion. There could be no greater contrast but also no better analogy. Kosuth’s work in general, and this label in particular, communicates something very interesting and profound about our times and about wine, as will be imprinted unforgettably in your mind once you have seen it. It is at the same time a new and an old way to think about wine. It is highly abstracted and at the same time supremely tangible; physical and yet ephemeral. The Kosuth Vendemmia d’Artista label is a masterpiece—and the wine inside the bottle is very good, too.

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Tasting

2020 Ornellaia

Dark and impenetrable in the glass, the 2020 Ornellaia has a powerful character of coffee and black cherries, complemented by bitter chocolate and tar. On the palate, there is a tense energy supported by grainy tannins, like gravel crunching underfoot as the senses traverse a Tuscan garden of fragrant lemon trees in ornamental terra-cotta, refreshed by shady alcoves of boxwood and bergamot and a herbal coolness, fading swiftly into a whiff of dank, rose-inflected Santa Maria Novella potpourri. Like a vision in a dream, the wine fades quickly, with just a little hollowness on the palate, which evanesces gently with a mineral hint of charcoal, pliable yet incisive, as jet black on a sheet of artist’s paper. 2023–40. | 96

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