Exclusive: Ornellaia’s winemaker Axel Heinz to step down
Heinz, who was born in Germany and raised in France, became one of the world’s most influential winemakers, when he became the estate director and winemaker at Ornellaia in 2005. Under his 17-year tenure – the longest of any estate director at the property – both Ornellaia and Masseto have grown to become some of the most sought-after Italian wines in the secondary market. Together with Sassicaia, they are the only Italian wines to maintain a continuous presence in the Liv-ex Power 100 since 2010.
Heinz studied at the University of Bordeaux and started his career as a winemaker in France in Bordeaux, later working in Saint-Émilion before moving to Bolgheri on the Tuscan coast. His natural attention for details, his holistic attitude towards viticulture and oenology brought him not only to make the established labels of Masseto and Ornellaia more and more reliable but he expanded the range, adding white wines to the estate’s portfolio. Two new wines immediately hit record prices: Ornellaia Bianco (predominantly Sauvignon Blanc, sometimes with a dash of Viogner) and the second wine, Massetino, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
He has been described as determined, focused and with a true personal passion for wine (and his guitar) and although his wines have achieved several 100 points during his leadership, this seems to have made him humbler rather then cockier.
Heinz said it had been “an honour” to contribute to the success of Ornellaia and Masseto and he thanked CEO Giovanni Geddes and the two estates’ owners, the Frescobaldi family.
“I had the opportunity to run an incredible valuable vineyards and two state-of-the-art cellars which gave us the chance to bottle the fruit of a terroir showing to the fullest the Mediterranean elegance and finesse,” he said.
He said that while it was “time to go back to France”, Bolgheri, Ornellaia and Masseto would “stay in my heart forever”.
“Italy, after so many years has become my third homeland after Germany where I was born and France where I lived most of my life,” he said.
CEO Giovanni Geddes da Filicaia said that the 17 years that Axel Heinz had been at Ornellaia and Masseto had been “paramount years for the success and development of our wineries”.
“It is also thanks to Axel’s professional qualities as a director and winemaker but also to his personal qualities Ornellaia and Masseto high achievements come from nature’s blessing and the enormous passion and and experience of a great team,” he said.
Whether the departure of such an important player as Axel Heinz will have an impact on the secondary market remains to be seen. With an average price of around £1,800 per case, Ornellaia remains one of the best value for money Italian collectable wines while Masseto with an average price of around £8,300 is one of Italy’s most expensive fine wine.