Ornellaia Tops $2,000 a Case as Estate Marks 25 Years

Ornellaia is confirming its place among the biggest names in wine sales as it celebrates 25 years of production.

The Tuscan grower’s bottles are exceeding $2,000 a case as demand increases at auction. Buying interest in wines from Italy, Burgundy and California has picked up in recent months as demand eased from Asian collectors for top Bordeaux.

Ornellaia is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux-style grapes. It also produces a single-vineyard premium Merlot, Masseto, sold separately by French merchants.

“A lot of private clients are becoming interested in a broader range of wines beyond Bordeaux grand cru classe,” Stephen Williams, founder of the London-based Antique Wine Company, said by phone. “Ornellaia and Masseto in particular.”

The Ornellaia Estate was set up in 1981 outside the village of Bolgheri, close to the Tuscan coast west of Florence. Planted with vines the following year, its first vintage was in 1985.

The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 Index, a Bordeaux benchmark, fell 2 percent in the second quarter after gaining 7 percent in the first, and has slipped further during July to trade 4 percent up over the year so far.

A case of Ornellaia 2004 sold for $2,214 at Acker Merrall & Condit in New York on May 22, while six bottles of Ornellaia 2005 fetched 1,112 Swiss francs ($1,150) at Christie’s International Plc in Geneva in May, the equivalent of $2,300 for a full case, according to data on the auction houses’ websites. On July 27, a case spanning six vintages back to 1993 fetched 1,547 pounds ($2,380) at Bonhams in London.

Cabernet Sauvignon

“We see the market of fine wines getting very interesting all over the world,” said Giovanni Geddes, Chief Executive Officer of Ornellaia. “It’s a question of perfecting what we have got.”

The flagship brand from the main estate, Ornellaia Bolgheri DOC Rosso, is made from Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, under the direction of winemaker Axel Heinz.

“There does seem to be a growing market for those sort of wines at auction,” said Stephen Mould, head of Sotheby’s European wine department. “People are looking to spread out a bit. Ornellaia does produce some fantastic wines.”

Charity Auction

The winery has started marketing the 2010 vintage, a quarter-century after its first, and marked the occasion with a charity auction held by Sotheby’s at London’s Royal Opera House in May.

The sale raised 238,500 pounds from bids on large-format bottles incorporating designs by artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, and followed a similar auction held in New York in February which raised $55,250.

Since 1997, it has also produced a second wine, Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, using grapes selected out of the main wine, and now also makes Le Volte dell’Ornellaia, blending 50 percent Merlot and 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with 30 percent native Italian Sangiovese.

Its vineyards cover 99 hectares (245 acres). According to Ornellaia’s website, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines cover 38 hectares each, with Cabernet Franc on 12 hectares and Petit Verdot on 7. There are also smaller quantities of white Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Petit Manseng.

Tuscan Index

Liv-ex said in a market blog this month that in June its Super Tuscan Index, tracking Italy’s most powerful wine brands, was showing the strongest performance this year of all its indexes. While Masseto and Tignanello were driving gains in the first half of 2013, “over a five-year period Ornellaia has outperformed all others.”

The company is investing in a new winery specifically for Masseto, so that it can operate as a fully-separate brand, with construction due to start early next year, according to Geddes. “Masseto will be completely stand-alone,” he said.

Ornellaia was founded in 1981 by Lodovico Antinori. Bordeaux-based wine consultant Michel Rolland began his association with the vineyard in 1991 and it has been owned since 2005 by Tuscan wine group Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi.

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