Tuscany's Marchesi de' Frescobaldi wine company and California's Robert Mondavi Winery announced today that they are jointly taking over one of Italy's greatest wine estates, Tenuta dell' Ornellaia. The nearly 200-acre estate, located in Bolgheri, the coastal region of Tuscany, produced Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year in 2001, the 1998 Ornellaia (96 points, $110).
Mondavi bought a minority stake in Ornellaia in November 1999, and quietly purchased the remaining shares this past January. Although no one in California or Tuscany would officially confirm the purchase price, it was understood to total about $35 million. The Frescobaldis will pay an estimated $17.5 million for their 50 percent share and will officially become joint owners this June.
Lodovico Antinori, who founded Ornellaia in 1981, is expected to step down later thus year as chairman of the company. He will now focus his energy on a new winery that he is creating in Bibbona near Bolgheri along with his brother Piero Antinori of the famous Tuscany wine firm of Marchesi Antinori.
"This is a way to keep a piece of Ornellaia in Italy," said Lamberto Frescobaldi, one of the key figures in the Frescobaldi wine dynasty, about the joint ownership. "Ornellaia is an Italian jewel. Our goal is to keep Ornellaia at the same level of quality or even better in the future."
The Mondavis and Frescobaldis have been working together since the mid-1990s, when they formed a joint-venture winery in Tuscany called Luce della Vite, where they produce a super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Merlot under the same name. Made in the Montalcino region, Luce has been good but not great in quality, while the Frescobaldi wines have greatly improved in the meantime. The joint venture also makes Tuscan reds under the Lucente label and inexpensive Italian wines under the Danzante name.
"We wanted to establish a true partnership with the Frescobaldis since we did with Luce in 1995 to build an Italian portfolio together," said Michael Mondavi, chairman of Robert Mondavi Winery. "We thought it was vitally important to have local ownership [of Ornellaia], and the Frescobaldis have been growing grapes and making wines for 700 years in Tuscany."
The Mondavis are also expected to begin distributing Frescobaldi wines in the United States later this year.
Ornellaia's current management team is expected to stay on, including general manager Leonardo Raspini, winemaker Thomas Duroux and commercial director Alex Belson. In addition, Michel Rolland, the famous Bordeaux wine consultant, and Danny Schuster, a New Zealand-based vineyard specialist, will continue working with the estate.
Ornellaia will continue to make Masseto, its fabulous pure Merlot, and the Cabernet Sauvignon-based Ornellaia blend, as well as a second wine called La Serre Nuove and a simple red called Le Volte. The outstanding Poggio alle Gazze, a pure Sauvignon Blanc, will be discontinued this year.
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