The story of this estate’s ascendancy is captivating, full of passion and innovation. The Gaja name was established in the region in the 1850s when Angelo’s great, great grandfather Giovanni Gaja moved to Piedmont and then set up a tavern in the lovely village of Barbaresco.
Since then 5 generations of the Gaja family have been involved in the winemaking process. Angelo Gaja joined the business in 1961, taking over the reins from his father Giovanni. It was at this point that the greatest changes were made and they have been fundamental.
Amongst the key changes and innovations introduced were the exclusive focus on estate grown fruit; the reduction of yields; scientifically analyzing the vineyards; separately bottling the vineyard sites to create single vineyard wines; ageing in small barrels made by a local cooperage from wood kept and seasoned at the estate as well as the traditional bottle; planting Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes alongside the traditional indigenous varieties much to everyone’s horror, not least that of his father.
Today Angelo Gaja and his family create spectacular Barbaresco and Barolo wines from the Nebbiolo grape at their estate in Piedmont alongside their iconic single vineyard wines under the Langhe DOC. They also produce extraordinary white wines with a great capacity to age. They are responsible for some of Italy’s most celebrated bottles which all exhibit the characteristic hallmark of power with sophisticated elegance that marks Gaja apart.
As one would expect for wines of this quality harvesting is done by hand with acute care taken to ensure that the fruit reaches the winery in perfect condition. Ruthless decision making, such as the decision in 2002 (a dilute and difficult year in Piedmont) to declassify the total crop and sell it in bulk, illustrates this well. All wines are fermented in stainless steel, with the reds seeing varying degrees of skin contact depending on the wine and the year. Ageing starts in small French oak barrels, a tactic developed by Angelo when he took responsibility for the winemaking in 1969, and moves to large oak casks for all but the whites and Sito Moresco. Angelo regards the traditional requirements that must be observed for inclusion of a wine in the legal DOC or DOCG quality standards as an impediment to his policy of seeking perfection. Thus the majority of Gaja wines are named according to the vineyard rather than the DOC or DOCG. That Costa Russi is basically Barbaresco and Sperss is basically Barolo is something that must simply be remembered.
Anyone who has had the pleasure to meet Angelo and his daughter Gaia will not be surprised by their success. They have an indomitable will, powerful personality and a total belief in their own direction. Great wines are often a reflection of the people that create them and this is definitely the case with Gaja. Multi layered, fascinating wines with great charm, elegance and longevity. It is no wonder that they are held in such great esteem.