The pragmatic winemaker was astonished as he stood in the middle of a picturesque vineyard in Bolgheri’s enchanting wine-grape growing area in Tuscany. One would think that the man was awestruck by the sheer beauty of the place but that was not the reason on this occasion. For the first time in the winery’s history, all four grape varieties for its blend were ready for harvest at the same time. It was shocking considering one such red grape variety called Merlot, which always needs to be picked on the earlier side, especially for this illustrious wine producer who wanted to retain finesse, and another called Petit Verdot were both picked the same day, as Petit Verdot is a much later ripening grape due to the tannins in the seeds and skins needing more time to ripen fully.
That man, Axel Heinz, winemaker and estate director of the prestigious Ornellaia estate, who is very sensible with his decisions, did the unthinkable; he gave the order to pick Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot all on the same day on his estate in Bolgheri, Tuscany. He exclaimed that such a thing “hasn’t happened before” in the history of this grand property. Axel noted that everyone on his winemaking team thought “each grape could give an important contribution” since it was an excellent year for all of them.
And this rare incident would inspire the name of the 2020 vintage of Ornellaia, and it is anointed with the title ‘La Proporzione’ – translated in English as ‘Proportion’.
2020 Ornellaia ‘La Proporzione’
According to Axel, 2020 was a vintage “made out of contrast” as despite it generally being a “fairly warm year”, this general characterization was interrupted by cool weather, rain and a heat spike. “A vintage of fractions and pieces” that at certain snapshots of it would seem disastrous for a fine wine vintage, yet all together and under the proper guidance, it made “balanced and harmonious wines”.
In comparison to 2019, Axel says 2020 is more on the “herbal” side, yet it is really about “luscious” and “juicy, ripe fruit” that makes it approachable in its youth. He did admit that the past vintage of 2000 came to his mind when trying to find a similar vintage. However, again, there is still that distinct difference of all the grapes varieties, or proportions, of the wine simultaneously ripening that has no counterpart to 2020.
Letting Words Speak for Themselves
As with past vintages, not only was the newly arrived Ornellaia given a name but it was also given an artist to work within the confines of expressing that name on the bottle. American artist Joseph Kosuth, one of the pioneers of conceptual art, was chosen to take the idea of ‘proportion’ and express it on the bottle. Throughout Joseph’s career, he has used language, images and objects to illustrate concepts, as conceptual art is often defined as the idea behind the piece being more critical than the physical art. One of his biggest projects involved investigating and displaying the etymology (root) of the word ‘water’, and hence, in this case, he shows the etymology for the word ‘wine’ on bottles of the 2020 Ornellaia.
But Joseph wanted to make clear that this piece is not associated with any other work of art he has done, as he can only express ideas that are present in his mind, right here and now, and so, a similarly looking piece like the one based on the root of water was coming from a different mindset than what his mind has evolved to today. At the beginning of his career, Joseph Kosuth employed linguistic tools to protect art from becoming simply decoration or part of the art world scene; he wanted to emphasize that the “why” was more important than the “how”. He even created a series of pieces called Art as Idea as Idea that only displayed dictionary entries instead of the actual material or image of the material. He ultimately took away any artistic interpretation so the viewer could purely experience the ideas of the words.
The concept of ‘proportion’ was the obvious choice from Ornellaia’s perspective as it represents the ideal proportions of these grapes in the blend that have all come to their perfect state together, making a harmonious wine. Still, Joseph took the idea as representing the “building blocks of meaning” each person brings to every life situation. Some of those things that people bring to various situations can be more evident regarding their language or culture but there are many other things, that can be more influential at times, such as past events in one’s life that might make that person perceive things differently than what his community perceives.
And despite many observers thinking that much of Joseph Kosuth’s work is about words, he noted, referencing this ‘proportion’ project, that it isn’t about the words and it isn’t about the wine; it is about “our human connection to all of these things.” To Joseph, wine is very personal – “you have a glass in your hand, and you are drinking it, and it is your glass of wine.” It may seem simplistic to describe a work of art in such a way, but people must get back to the basics in these times. People’s relationships with words have become extremely complicated, causing a tremendous amount of division that has led to fellow citizens fervently turning against each other, friendships and family connections being wholly destroyed and constant death threats flung at those on the internet who dare to voice an unpopular opinion.
People need to root themselves in some fundamental, indisputable realities before addressing discrepancies among one another. In that way, there can be a connection made by both conflicting parties over a simple statement, such as each person is drinking a glass of wine that belongs to that person and they are both enjoying each of his wine. It humanizes those combatants, and hence, even though there may never be an agreement over other issues, dehumanizing tendencies don’t take over because both men are connected to each other through their personal connection to that glass of wine.
Harmony Feeling Unsettling
Humankind losing that beautiful, pure feeling that five-year-old children connect over, such as basic needs, wants and desires, is a tragedy on many levels and that tragedy has only become more dangerous as the world becomes smaller. Even though most people fight the good fight of creating a world that would allow harmony among everyone, unconsciously, harmony is unsettling as it goes against the whole way one lives their life. The concept of “the other” easily allows people to find that sense of belonging.
And there was nothing natural about witnessing all these grape varieties (proportions) on the Ornellaia estate reaching their ideal state together, as it went against the logic formed from past experiences. But it was so evident that Axel couldn’t deny the truth, a man with a practical Bordeaux background, as well as his team of many Bolgheri people with strong personalities who believe in superstition superseding everything else yet there was nothing in their superstition that could prepare them for such an occurrence.
Something that seemed so strange made a fantastic wine, a wine that gives so much joy right out of the gate. A wine that was created by a mixture of local superstition and outside practicality by using four grape varieties that each reached their ideal state together. It is easy to find harmony for each ‘proportion’ in such rare conditions as each one was given the best conditions to thrive, yet when some are given conditions that hold them back, or stunt their growth, it throws any sense of harmony off balance.
One day, when the world, through a multitude of adjustments over centuries, finds its balance and sustains it, harmony will reign; it will feel unsettling and make many uncomfortable and there will be a great temptation to bring things back to that unbalanced state. And that is when finding those precious, simple connections will be vital to keep that harmony. “You have a glass in your hand, and you are drinking it, and it is your glass of wine.” That is all one knows, that is all that matters, that is what will keep a true sense of connection and harmony alive.
***Link to original Forbes article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathrinetodd/2023/03/08/super-star-tuscan-wine-unveils-2020-vintage-and-experiences-for-the-first-time-perfection-for-all-grape-varieties/
2020 Ornellaia ‘La Proporzione’ Bolgheri DOC Superiore, Bolgheri, Tuscany: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot. Many times it is not worth noting the color, yet the color is stunning on this wine with a pristine ruby color that has highlights of purple that has an enchanting nose with blueberry tart and black cherry compote lifted with floral violet aromas with a tinge of fresh sage that dances across the palate with juicy cassis fruit flavors laced with a saline minerality that has a silky, lush texture with lots of energy on the long, expressive finish.
One artistic label designed by Kosuth can be found in each case of six 750ml bottles of Ornellaia 2020, “La Proporzione” (Proportion). This label is printed with a quotation, in English, from Roman Architect Vitruvius (De architectura 3.1.3)*, while the labels on the 100 Double Magnums show an etymological tree of the word wine. The ten Imperials, no two of which are the same, have the same etymological chart etched onto the glass. Each Imperial shows a different branch of this tree highlighted in white, with Vitruvius’ quotation translated into that language or into one of its modern descendants: Albanian, Serbo-Croat, Latin, Italian, Hindi, Hebrew, Modern Greek, Irish, German and Armenian. On the unique Salmanazar, meanwhile, the highlighted branch and Vitruvius’ surrounding words are in English.
Kosuth’s interpretation expresses itself through his design of the labels, both for the 750 ml bottle and for larger formats and culminates in the site-specific artwork designed for the estate itself. Some of the larger, individualized bottles will go under the hammer at Sotheby’s online auction, to be held from September 7th to 21st, 2023 before becoming valued additions to the cellars of the winning collectors.