Friday, February 15, 2013

Lunch in Bolgheri and Amazing Visit to Tenuta dell 'Ornellaia

Jan. 9, 2013 - The road to the small town of Bolgheri is lined with ancient cedar trees that give it a very royal feel. A small castle near the entrance enhances this feeling, and the tiny streets with small shops and restaurants complete the fairytale atmosphere.

Lunch at Bionda Maria Societa

After our tasting of Sassicaia at Tenuta San Guido, the bus dropped us off outside that town walls and we walked into town in search of a restaurant. One of the first we saw was Bionda Maria Societa where the owner stood on the doorstep and beckoned us in with a big smile.

We started with a local vermintino, which jumped out of the glass with crisp acidity and fresh lemon notes. We tried this with a huge platter of local cheese and honey. The main course was fish in red tomato sauce that I had with a glass of the local Super Tuscan. What a match – it isn’t everyday that you can pair fish with a big red, but in this case, the hearty sauce on the fish worked perfectly with the cab based wine.

Visiting the Vineyards of Tenuta dell'Ornellaia

After lunch, we walked back to the bus and were very impressed that Ricardo, Hospitality Director at Tenuta dell'Ornellaia, had come to greet us and personally direct us to one of their vineyards.

We drove a short distance to a merlot vineyard further up the hill and Ricardo took us to an outlook where we could see the sea in the distance. I’m not sure why it is so exciting for me to see vineyards and the ocean so close together, but I am always filled with delight. Perhaps it is because there are not that many vineyards in the world with a view of the sea.

Ricardo explained that Bolgheri was originally a very poor area known for muddy soils and malaria. However, now there are 45 to 50 wineries here, and many cabernet sauvignon, cab franc and merlot vineyards. He said the soil is too rich and the climate too warm for sangiovese to do well here.

Tenuta dell 'Ornellaia", founded in 1991, has over 100 hectares of vineyards, and they employee 140 workers year round to take care of the vineyards and olive orchards. The cab is primarily cordon whereas the merlot is guyot cane-pruned. They are not organic, but try to farm sustainably. Spacing in the modern vineyards is 1.2m by .75cm, and ranges from 8,000 to 12,000 plants per hectare.

Massetto Vineyard, a merlot vineyard planted in 1986, has now become so famous that it has its own label, and they are designing a new winery there. We stopped at the Massetto vineyard, which is next to the entrance to Ornellaia winery, and I was impressed with its vastness and hillside position.

The Art of Ornellaia

Entering the winery is like visiting an art gallery. There are beautiful sculptures on the lawn, and the architecture is an amazing pentagon design. Ricardo said, “We link wine with art. Italians do this naturally.” I have to agree that they do it very well.

He explained their practice of hiring an internationally acclaimed artist to create art to match the theme of each vintage. I really enjoyed the theme aspect, because this reminded me of poetry and each year really is quite different in a vineyard and for the resulting wine. Thus they had named 2006 Exuberance, 2007 Harmony, 2008 Energy, and 2009 Equilibrium.

Winemaking at Ornellaia

Ricardo toured us through the cellar and we were very impressed with the state of the art equipment, and the red lacquered floor of the barrel room (see photo). They do sort berry by berry at this winery, use a basket press for more general winemaking, and are beginning to resort back to concrete for fermentation though currently they are still using large foudres. Especially impressive was the bottling machine which can do 6000 bottles per hour.

Tasting at Ornellaia

The winemaker, Axel, joined us for the tasting of 3 wines and provided an excellent commentary on his winemaking philosophy. We were impressed with the wide variety of wines and price points they are producing at this winery. I did not know it was so large, with more than half a million bottles produced of the entry-level wine.

We started with the entry level 2010 Le Vogt which is a Tuscan IGT, (50% merlot, 25% cab, and 25% sangio), which they said was a great pizza wine. Next was the 2010 Le Serre Nuova, which I very much enjoyed. It is their second label, and has big structured tannins, cassis, tobacco and excellent concentration.

We concluded with the 2009 Ornellaia that was very approachable now due to the hot vintage. Most Americans will enjoy the ripe lush fruit on this wine with its softer tannins and opulence, though it may be too ripe for Europeans. Regardless, it was a beautiful wine, and everyone was quite impressed with its length and concentration.

World-Class Marketing at Ornellaia

A special treat of this visit was a chance to meet with Alex, the legendary marketing director at Ornellaia. She entranced the group with her knowledgeable presentation on their marketing and PR efforts, and everyone wished they could have listened to her much longer. She did say Italy was their best market, with the USA being the second major consumer. This was refreshing as many wineries told us Italy had been a tough market in the past few years due to the recession. Italy, though, is proud of its Super Tuscans, and Ornellaia wants to make sure they are well-represented in the local market.

We left Ornellaia with a sense of awe and appreciation for all they are doing -- not only crafting beautiful wines, but by marrying art and wine for the beautification of the world.

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