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Gaja Back to Barbaresco Roots

Posted: Tuesday, 10 January 2017 16:58


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Gaja Back to Barbaresco Roots

Jan 10: Angelo Gaja, the uncrowned Prince of Piedmont brought Barbaresco on the world map when Barolo ruled the roost as king of wines but moved away from the appellation for his top iconic wines Sorì Tildin, Sorì San Lorenzo and Costa Russi as he chose to add 5-15% of the prohibited Barbera, but the next generation led by his daughter Gaia Gaja has now decided to go back to the roots and make them with 100% Nebbiolo grapes starting with the 2013 vintage released in September last year, writes Subhash Arora

Click For Large ViewAngelo Gaja produced Barbaresco DOCG wines that are known internationally for their high quality brand and command prices upwards of $180. However, the iconic ‘Grand Cru’ wines of the international celebrity wine producer are single vineyards wines-Costa Russi, Sorì Tildin and Sorì San Lorenzo, using 5-15% of Barbera grapes in the blend. Gaja has returned to the original Barbaresco appellation with the 2013 vintage released in September 2016 by totally eliminating Barbera. Earlier classified as Langhe DOC, Costa Russi, Sorì Tildin and Sorì San Lorenzo, will be labelled as Barbaresco DOP under the new appellation rules- equivalent to DOCG under new EU rules.

Similarly, starting with the 2013 vintage Sperss 2013 and Conteisa 2013 to be released in September 2017 will also have 100% Nebbiolo and thus will come under Barolo denomination.

I came in contact with Angelo Gaja in 2002 in Vinitaly and came closer to him, his wife Lucia and their daughters-Gaia and Rossana over the years-I didn’t get a chance to meet son Giovanni as he was much younger and studying in school was not around when I met a member of the family.

Making of a great Wine

What really brought me close to Angelo Gaja was the book, ‘The Making of a great Wine: Gaja and Sori San Lorenzo by Edward Steinberg presented by him to me in 2002. The book focused on a single vineyard wine, the 1989 Sori San Lorenzo. Following the complete process of growing grapes in the San Lorenzo vineyards to bottling, it was always a thoroughly engaging and educational encounter. Interwoven with winemaking was the story of how this renowned producer transformed an unknown Italian wine Barbaresco into one of international celebrities. Incidentally the 1989 label of the icon sells today for $480-rather cheap compared to the following vintage 1990 which fetched perhaps the all-time high price today of $ 770 (source-Wine-Searcher).

Click For Large ViewAngelo took many bold steps to change the style of winemaking that earned him a lot of respect. One of the steps he had taken was to start growing Barbera grapes in 1974 and decided to add 5-15% in the blend, making him controversial too. Before Barbaresco and Barolo received the DOC recognition in 1966 when this appellation system was first started, Barbera used to be allowed but was prohibited since then.

Explaining her father taking the step, Gaia Gaja tells delWine, ‘The project to leave the Barbaresco denomination for Langhe Nebbiolo was made by my father, in order to compose the wines with Nebbiolo and Barbera. Since the vintage 1996, the single vineyards became a bland of 95% Nebbiolo and 5% Barbera. Barbera in particular is a very complementary variety to Nebbiolo; the blending was done to get closer to the idea of how wines were made for centuries in Barolo and Barbaresco, in a context very different from today, when the blending was allowed, explored and considered.’ This made him very controversial.

Going back to Barbaresco roots

It appears that the siblings have come to form their own considered opinions which are respected by the father. ‘I have been working beside my father for 12 years; Rossana and Giovanni got involved more recently. We got to learn how our father acts, and controversy is never a surprise. We actually love it and could not be luckier in having him as our mentor! We love to work with him because he is constantly scattering certainty, never taking anything for granted or having any preconceived notions. It is a daily life lesson that we value immensely.’

Click For Large ViewThe siblings have decided to go back to basics and use 100% Nebbiolo for their wines, both in Barbaresco and Barolo, says Gaia Gaja. ‘The decision came jointly from my sister Rossana, my brother Giovanni and me. In 12 years of working in the business, I also developed my own ideas that happen to be in line with Giovanni’s and Rossana’s. So we thought the time was now right for us to make our own choices.’

She emphasizes, ‘we want to follow our own path-to have the single vineyards back to the Barbaresco denomination and to devote ourselves to Nebbiolo and fully enhance its expression. It’s a decision that we took ourselves but we could actualize enforce it only thanks to his support. So, we are once again very grateful for his understanding and respect for our feelings.’

The celebratory 2013 vintage

Why from 2013 vintage, I ask? ‘No better vintage could celebrate the re-entering of such wines in the Barbaresco denomination since I consider 2013 to be one of the most elegant, and complex vintages ever. Thus, it is the first vintage released once again with the Barbaresco denomination –released in September 2016. We will continue to use for Costa Russi , Sorì Tildin and Sorì San Lorenzo the Barbaresco denomination in future.’

Click For Large View‘With regards to DOP (Denominazione Origine Protetta), we will change all our wines gradually to DOP which is the European equivalent of the Italian DOC and DOCG. As we are European, we feel that this denomination is the most contemporary that we can use’, she adds.

Generation Succession

In an Article in November, 2014 reporting the Vertical Tasting of  Sorì San Lorenzo 1971-2011, Antonio Galloni, the American expert on Italian wines who tasted them earlier for Robert Parker and now owns ‘Vinous’, wrote:

“Angelo and Lucia Gaja’s children, Gaia, Rossana and Giovanni, are now increasingly involved in the family business. The most recent Gaja wines clearly show a move towards a more refined, finessed style that stands in stark contrast to the wines the young Angelo Gaja made in the 1970s and 1980s. Generational succession is the single greatest challenge facing Piedmont’s wineries today. If Angelo and Lucia Gaja can hand off their estate to their children and give them the freedom to make decisions, they will succeed where so many others before them have failed.”

Angelo Gaja took over from his father Giovanni Gaja in 1970, making a generational change. It would appear that with homecoming to Barbaresco and Barolo appellation for all the iconic wines of the Gaja stable in 2016, the hands off policy of his family estate and handing over of freedom to make decisions to the next generation of Angelo Gaja is complete.

Subhash Arora

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Gaia Says:

Superlative article Subhash! Congratulation! The most precise and clear I read so far. Grazie! Best Gaia

Posted @ January 11, 2017 12:26


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