Oct 21: I have always recognised the role Gaja played in my falling in love with Italian wines and possibly promoting them inadvertently a tad more than the others. I must have done something out of the way made the Italian government considered me worthy of the knighthood and awarding me the title of Cavaliere earlier this year.
The man who unwittingly helped me meet Angelo Gaja who became a very good friend after our first meeting was Willi Klinger, an Austrian!
I took to drinking mostly Italian wines in the early nineties, courtesy of an Italian friend who used to live in Delhi. I chose to drink as many diverse wines as possible. This was the period when I had also started reading voraciously about wines-first in books and later also on the internet.
One name that always fascinated me was Gaja- not only because of the non-Italian sounding name but because each of his top red wines used to sell for over $250- at least 25 times the price I used to pay for the Italian wines I drank. I was even more fascinated when its owner, Angelo Gaja was selected as the Decanter Man of the year 1998. ‘The Prince of piedmont’ was credited with improving the quality of Italian wines to an unprecedented level and bringing Barbaresco on the world map at par with Barolo-always considered wine for the kings and king of wines. That made me very curious about him.
Enter Willi Klinger
My opportunity to meet him came in 2002. I had already been visiting some Italian wine areas and shows, besides attending wine tastings, whenever I could in India or abroad, including Italy. I had founded the Delhi Wine Club in the beginning of the year and was attending my first Vinitaly, the great Italian international wine show. I remember being perhaps the only Indian paying money from my pocket for the air-fare and stay etc. Naturally, I was keen to register for as many guided tastings and technical seminars as possible to soak in the latest about Italian wines.
Literally running from one seminar to the other, I missed the beginning of one tasting seminar. For the life of me, I could not remember which room I was supposed to be in. Every room had speakers talking in Italian- a language I did not understand at all, but would study later and even win a scholarship to go to Perugia and actually suspend my business activities for a month, some years later.
Feeling lost, I entered a room filled to capacity with a gentleman speaking in German language. A few Riedel glasses had been neatly laid on the table so one could expect to taste some fine wines. But German being spoken in Italia! I was intrigued.
I had lived in Germany for a year, centuries ago. I could still pick up a few words of the language here and there, so I decided to grab the only vacant seat available. Fortunately, the seminar had started and no one questioned my presence. I could hear the speaker use the word ‘Bulgari’ frequently enough to make me wonder if I had entered a Bulgarian wine tasting.
Suddenly, the gentleman asked the audience to welcome Mr. Angelo Gaja and there was a gigantic applause. My heart missed a beat! I could not believe that the man who was so famous throughout the world with various complimentary, unofficial titles and whom I had wanted to meet for quite some time would be conducting the guided wine tasting, which I would later discover was for wines from his new Ca’Marcanda wine estate in Bulgari, in the Maremma area of Tuscany.
At the end of the tasting, I introduced myself to him. He was warm, attentive and surprised when I told him I was from India and had heard a lot about him. He muttered something to the German speaking gent and after exchanging few more sentences, we parted company- only to meet again several times in future, including my visit to his winery in Barbaresco, last month.
A few weeks after I came back from Verona, I received by mail a book that Angelo had apparently instructed his Exports Manager, the Austrian Willi Klinger to send to me. ‘The Vines of San Lorenzo’ is the book written by Edward Steinberg and focuses on the making of a single wine-Sorí San Lorenzo ‘89. I read it from cover to cover even though it took me weeks to finish reading.
The book is truly a classic that describes not only the history and quest of Gaja family to bring up Barbaresco as the top Italian wine, though it concentrates on the making of one of his top wines from the San Larenzo estate. It describes all aspects of making fine wine and viticulture so vividly that I believe it should be prescribed as a text book for enology courses. In fact, I remember meeting one wine importer from Latvia-Marika Shlare during one of my recent trips to Italy, who swore she keeps the book on her bedside like Bible and reads a little every night-when someone has not already borrowed it! The book fuelled my interest in the quality and variety of Italian wines and the uniqueness of the indigenous grapes. I have visited different regions in Italy a dozen times since. During my visit last month to Alba to attend a wine fest organised by an organisation of producers, named Albeisa, I mentioned to a Danish journalist friend that I was planning to visit Austria in June. He told me that the Austrian Wine Marketing Board (AWMB) was now headed by an Austrian named Willi Klinger- who used to work for Gaja earlier. That made my ears perk up.
Later, I met Angelo at his winery for tasting at his Castello di Barbaresco, connected through a tunnel. He confirmed that Willi worked with him for 6 years. Full of praise for him, he said that he was always hankering to go back to his country and promote Austrian wines, which he is actively doing these days.
If the Cavaliere awards were like Oscar where I would be allowed to make a speech and thank God, Gaja, and Gianpiero (my Italian friend with whom I shared dozens of different Italian wines over the years) among others- like my wife, I would also thank Willi Klinger who has since confirmed that he had worked with Gaja from 2000-2006. He was inadvertently instrumental in helping me board the train that eventually helped me in getting the coveted knighthood.
I will be seeing Klinger this week again at the Austrian Wine Summit being held from 11-14 June, in Vienna after 7 years and will thank him personally for something he might not have even been aware of.
Cavaliere Subhash Arora
Herr Willi Klinger resigned from his job at the Austrian Wine Marketing Board last year and now is the CEO of Wein & Co. Editor
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