Angelo Gaja is arguably Italy’s most revered and respected winemaker thanks to his visionary dedication to revitalising Piedmont’s traditional Barbaresco wines over the past few decades.
The Gaja family estate was founded in 1859 with just 2 hectares of prime vineyards in Barbaresco, but it was under Angelo’s dynamic leadership from the 1970s onwards that the property began producing world-class wines. Today the estate has 101 hectares under vine which have been split into 32 specific plots with unique defining characteristics.
One pioneering change brought in by Angelo was the switch to vinifying and bottling single vineyard Barbaresco plots separately to capture the pure essence of the terroir and characterful Nebbiolo grape. This approach took inspiration from the terroir-driven philosophy found in Burgundy, with Angelo also adapting other French winemaking techniques for his elegant Barbaresco wines including the type of and use of oak barrels.
Over the years Angelo has put the Barbaresco name on the map for fine wine, and has also made significant investments in Bolgheri and Montalcino in Tuscany. As is so often the case, Gaja’s fame has been stoked by both brilliance and controversy. Some of Angelo’s more divisive decisions include leaving the Barbaresco consorzio and the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay within the Barbaresco appellation. Angelo was soon vindicated by Gaja’s hugely successful “Gaia & Rey” Chardonnay which was the first Piedmontese Chardonnay and the first barrel-aged Italian white.
More recently Angelo has stepped back from the day-to-day running of the winery to allow his two daughters, Gaia and Rossana, and their younger brother Giovanni to make their own mark on the Gaja brand. Recent changes include a renewed focus on boosting biodiversity on the estate and on sustainability in the vineyards by avoiding synthetic chemical treatments. Angelo’s children have also rejoined the Barbaresco consorzio and now once again label their wines under the region’s DOCG system rather than the generic “Langhe” labelling.
Exceptional recent vintages for Gaja include the 2016 which ticks all the boxes for quality and complexity. Going forward these Gaja wines are expected to rank amongst the estate’s most sought-after, especially given that 2017 will be a much smaller harvest due to the challenging weather conditions that year.