Tuscan winery Ornellaia collaborates with artist William Kentridge on limited edition labels and artworks

Tuscan winery Ornellaia collaborates with artist William Kentridge on limited edition labels and artworks

Italy and wine are both close to artist William Kentridge’s heart, so when Tuscan vineyard Ornellaia approached the South African artist to create a series of limited edition labels to celebrate its 2015 harvest, Kentridge agreed. Memories of grape picking near Florence with his family – and the hard toil involved – came flooding back.

‘Within minutes, your hands are full of juice, they stick to the secateurs and your back aches,’ he recalls. Using his trademark charcoal, Kentridge sketched ten labels highlighting the said hard labour; workers are depicted carrying baskets on their heads, and tools of the trade - secateurs, corkscrews and openers, morph into human-like figures. Kentridge created his depictions on antique Italian cashbooks found in flea markets around Tuscany. ‘I always prefer to draw on old papers with history rather than something new and white,’ he says. ‘They are in large supply in my studio in Johannesburg.’

Close up of William Kentridge’s design for Ornellaia

Kentridge used antique Italian cashbooks sourced from flea markets around Tuscany, preferring to draw on old papers with history

The artist, who is also a celebrated filmmaker, scenographer and theatre director, claims to have completed more projects in Italy than in any other country. Among them are the 1800-foot-long frieze Triumphs and Laments installed in Rome along the banks of the River Tiber in 2016, and numerous operas at Milan’s La Scala. Kentridge has reworked two of the drawings on the labels – a lattice corkscrew and a woman whose head is a basket of grapes – into three-metre high black steel sculptures which sill shortly be installed permanently on the Ornellaia estate. They will sit alongside works from the nine other artists with whom 97 hectare vineyard has collaborated over the past decade. These include Ernesto Neto in 2014, Rodney Graham in 2011 and Michelangelo Pistoletto in 2010.

As with Ornellaia’s previous Vendemmia D’Artista projects, Kentridge’s limited editon labels appear on bottles of all sizes from regular 750ml versions to a nine-litre Salmanazar. They were auctioned in nine lots at Sotheby’s alongside other rare Ornellaia vintages and raised 140,000 euros. So far, Ornellaia’s art project has raised around 2m euros for museums and art foundations around the world.

But the other star of the project is the wine itself; Ornellaia 2015 Il Carisma is the estate’s 30th vintage, and according to the experts, it is also one of the best, thanks to a particularly well-balanced harvest. We’ll drink to that.

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