Call it two Gajas for the price of one. Guests at a Friday afternoon seminar at the 2017 New York Wine Experience were treated to two seminars in one session, as Angelo Gaja and his daughter Gaia Gaja took the stage with senior editor Bruce Sanderson to discuss four of their 2014 Barbarescos from Italy's Piedmont region.
Gaia gave a tour of the Barbaresco DOCG and an overview of the Nebbiolo grape and the 2014 vintage. And her father, well, Angelo is semi-retired, having handed daily management of the company to Gaia and her siblings in 2013. But you can’t give a microphone to one of the wine world’s most dynamic personalities and not expect a show. Angelo spoke at length about his philosophy of artisanal winemaking. He also gave a sneak peek at his newest project, a winery on the slopes of Sicily’s Mt. Etna.
“When you talk about the character of a wine, you are talking about the character of the vintage,” said Gaia. “In the easy vintages, the grapes keep memories of the easy childhood they had, and the wines are easy and friendly. In 2014, the wines are not like that.” In 2014, the wines had a tough childhood, and that gave them tension and complexity.
She added that the wines’ characters are also defined by the complexity of the Nebbiolo grape. “Nebbiolo is not an open book. You have to investigate it,” she said. “Barbaresco is a lady, but don’t expect an easy lady.” Sanderson described the Gaja Barbaresco 2014 (93 points, $195), a blend of 14 different parcels, as firmly structured, needing time to open, with a long, complex finish.
Angelo’s father, Giovanni, was a vintner, a surveyor and mayor of the town of Barbaresco. The first two jobs helped him find some of the best vineyards in town, including Costa Russi, the bottom of one slope, and Sorì Tildìn, the top of the same. While tasting the Gaja Barbaresco Costa Russi 2014 (94, $485) and Sorì Tildìn 2014 (94, $485), Gaia explained that the lower slope receives less sunshine and yields a more floral, elegant wine. Sorì Tildìn, exposed to more constant sun, offers riper fruit flavors. “It is the alter ego,” she said.
The Gaja Sorì San Lorenzo 2014 (95, $485) comes from another prime Barbaresco vineyard. Gaia said it’s known for its structure over its fruit or floral characteristics. As Sanderson noted, this is a Nebbiolo to age, with muscular tannins and plenty of earthy notes.
“OK. Now it’s my turn,” said Angelo, 77. “For the people in the back, I’m the older one.” He needn’t worry. Everyone knew the Wine Experience regular and energetic force of nature who helped put Piedmont wine on the map.
Angelo shared a little of his family’s story, and what he has learned from it. He spoke of a lesson his grandmother, Clotilde Rey, who helped manage the winery for many years, taught him as a young boy. She explained that he needed to apply himself to be an artisan, and that he needed (roughly translated from Italian) to do, to know how, to teach how, and to transmit knowledge.
To do means to devote yourself to a craft, then you learn to truly understand it, Angelo explained. Next you must teach the next generation, and finally, transmit your knowledge to the world. Gaja has done all those things, and has been an example to vintners in Italy and beyond.
Closer to home, he taught his daughters Gaia and Rosanna (now the family winemaker) and his son Giovanni. But even as he has handed control to them, he has new projects to work on. In April, he announced that he was investing on Sicily’s Mt. Etna, forming a joint venture with local producer Alberto Graci. They purchased 27 acres of vineyards planted with Carricante and Nerello Mascalese. The winemakers plan to plant another 10 acres, and eventually build a winery.
Artisans don’t ever stop creating. “My father,” said Gaia, “is always looking to the future.”