Giovanni Geddes, CEO of Frescobaldi and Ornellaia, yesterday announced his retirement.
‘At 78 years old last July it’s time to stop working,’ he said on the sidelines of the 15th edition of Ornellaia Vendemmia d’Artista in Venice. ‘Last Sunday, I left home at 4.30am to fly to New York and I returned yesterday [Wednesday] to be here in Venice. I have some duties with the estates in terms of financial statements that I will have to endure through the first six months of 2024, but after that I want to slow down. I do not need cash by return,’ he said.
Geddes, who has a Cambridge education and fondly recalls the years spend in England during the 1960s, joined Frescobaldi at the end of 1996, and since then the estate’s growth has been unparalleled, always focusing on a visionary, long-term strategy. Less than 10 years after his arrival at Frescobaldi, Geddes managed the acquisition of Ornellaia from Constellation brands – the defining moment of his career.
In 2008, Geddes brought Masseto to La Place de Bordeaux. It was the first Italian wine to be sold by a Bordeaux négociant and paved the way for the dozens of producers from Piedmont, Valpolicella and Montalcino that would follow. In 2014 at the MW Symposium in Florence, he represented the elite of Italian fine wine with Ornellaia, among top producers from around the world including Anne-Claude Leflaive (Domaine Leflaive), Bill Harlan (Harlan Estate), Stephen Henschke (Henschke), and Peter Sisseck (Pingus).
In 2019, he successfully opened the doors of Masseto’s new winery in Bolgheri, marking a new chapter for a wine that was once called ‘Merlot dell’Ornellaia’ but has since become an estate of its own: another success owed largely to Geddes. In 2021 he decided to increase the work with La Place de Bordeaux by opening the first Italian office in the region.
All-change at Ornellaia
Giovanni Geddes’ announcement comes just one month after Ornellaia’s winemaker, Olga Fusari, announced that she is departing to join a new Bolgheri project. In March this year, estate director, Axel Heinz announced that he will be leaving this autumn to join Bordeaux estate, Château Lasccombes.
Frescobaldi and Ornellaia turn out some of the best wines of all time, but Geddes helped the two brands reach new levels by insisting that quality alone is not enough: to succeed, he argued, precise distribution and effective communication for proper segmentation was also needed.
Geddes represents one of the most respected and authoritative managers of the Italian wine world. He has been to Bolgheri and Ornellaia what Robert Jean de Voguet represented for Champagne and Moet. ‘Frescobaldi is a family estate, but we needed to evolve and there was a necessity to have someone who could push us,’ said Lamberto Frescobaldi. ‘Giovanni Geddes da Filicaja is not only an amazing manager but also a true gentleman. This makes the difference. It is much more pleasant to work with a gentleman, he never gets angry,’ he remarked.
‘I cannot help but recall when, in 2012, the opportunity to make wine in a prison on the island of Gorgona was presented to us. The family looked at it half-heartedly, while Giovanni was incredibly enthusiastic,’ added Lamberto.
Behind Geddes’ flawlessly elegant style (he always wears a beautiful Austrian jacket), hides the strength of a tenacious and visionary leader to whom the Italian wine world is indebted. In fact, it comes as no surprise that he is already being courted by other estates for consulting opportunities.
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