Big in Bolgheri: A Live Chat with Ornellaia's Axel Heinz

The star winemaker opens up about his philosophy toward making wine on Tuscany's coast, the magic behind Masseto and pandemic challenges in the U.S. market

Big in Bolgheri: A Live Chat with Ornellaia's Axel Heinz
After 15 years, Axel Heinz is super Tuscan estate Ornellaia's longest tenured winemaker.
Jan 25, 2021

What happens when you bring both Bordeaux and German know-how to Bolgheri? For wine star Axel Heinz, it's paid off, as he has helped Ornellaia become one of the biggest names in Italian wine. Born and raised in Germany, but influenced by his family's Bordeaux origins, Heinz became estate director of Ornellaia in 2005. In the latest episode of Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, Heinz swirled a glass of his 2018 Poggio alle Gazze and spoke with senior editor Bruce Sanderson about his winemaking philosophy, Ornellaia's new white wines and how the winery is adapting to the pandemic.

Whether it's big time MLB pitchers or renowned artists, Ornellaia has attracted high-status wine lovers, partly due to its famed Merlot Masseto. Heinz cites it as proof that Bordeaux varieties are better suited for this coastal part of Tuscany.

"I think it's a question of terroir and the particular and peculiar climate of the coast, combined with its soils which are quite markedly different from central Tuscany," Heinz said. "Things are quite different on the coast as the climate is much milder and creates perfect conditions for all the Bordeaux varieties, who find a particular expression which is more Mediterranean, ripe and a little more opulent."

Heinz has the longest tenure of any estate director at the property. He says the wines at Ornellaia have evolved since he joined 15 years ago. New vineyards have brought added nuance to the wines, and the power of the estate's terroir has been a clear guideline for the style and its winemakers.

"I think every producer in Bolgheri shares a common philosophy, which is linked to the fact that we all have the privilege to somehow contribute to the emergence of a great terroir which for decades went unnoticed," he said.

In recent years, Heinz has added white wines to Ornellaia's lineup, seeking to redefine Italian whites and introduce an "alter ego" to his ambitious reds.

"We are giving it a try and exploring how great a white wine we can produce in this nice territory," he said. "Making a great wine is a lifetime job so we know we can still do a lot better than we're doing, but in the meantime we are happy with the feedback we get for this wine."

The pandemic hasn't been easy for Ornellaia. Their affordable red, Le Volte, is a major source of revenue thanks to U.S. restaurants, where 75 percent of bottles are sold. Heinz says the company has focused on retail as shutdowns continue.

But he's quick to add that it hasn't been all that bad. "We were quite astonished by how well we fared; it's probably testifying that there's a really great following in the U.S. for our wines," he said.

Watch the full episode with Heinz on Wine Spectator's IGTV channel, and tune in to catch Straight Talk with Wine Spectator on select Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Jan. 26, senior editor Alison Napjus will chat with Champagne star Olivier Krug. And on Jan. 28, senior editor Bruce Sanderson will talk to Domaine Leflaive owner Brice de la Morandière.

More Straight Talk

See More

Building a Retail Wine Empire: A Live Chat with Costco's Annette Alvarez-Peters

Feb 9, 2021

Making Wine Fit for a Sun Goddess: A Live Chat with Mary J. Blige

Dec 24, 2020

Building a Legacy Off the Court: A Live Chat with CJ McCollum

Nov 17, 2020

Finding a Silver Lining in Napa: A Live Chat with Andy Erickson

Oct 26, 2020

Passing the Tuscan Torch: A Live Chat with Piero Antinori

Oct 15, 2020

Straight Talk Economy Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Tuscany Italy News

You Might Also Like

SND: Moët Hennessy Takes Stake In Armand de Brignac Champagne

SND: Moët Hennessy Takes Stake In Armand de Brignac Champagne

The international luxury giant is now equal partner with musician and entrepreneur Jay-Z

Feb 27, 2021
Bordeaux Adapts with New Grapes

Bordeaux Adapts with New Grapes

In entry-level bottlings, winemakers can begin using Touriga Nacional, Marselan and other …

Feb 26, 2021
The Restaurant at Meadowood Returns with Pop-Up at Ojai Valley Inn

The Restaurant at Meadowood Returns with Pop-Up at Ojai Valley Inn

The Napa Grand Award winner that suffered devastating wildfire damage is back for a …

Feb 25, 2021
Napa's Duckhorn Files Papers to Go Public with Stock Offering

Napa's Duckhorn Files Papers to Go Public with Stock Offering

The growing premium wine company, which owns brands from Decoy to Kosta Browne, made a …

Feb 23, 2021
Penfolds' Peter Gago Talks Blending California and Australia

Penfolds' Peter Gago Talks Blending California and Australia

The veteran chief winemaker discusses the new California wine project and what the Aussie …

Feb 22, 2021
Could a Key Ingredient in Red Wine Help Treat COVID-19?

Could a Key Ingredient in Red Wine Help Treat COVID-19?

In lab tests, tannins stopped an enzyme that the coronavirus uses to replicate

Feb 18, 2021