Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy
It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon, we parked the car and hiked up the narrow, winding road. After passing by the town hall on our left, we finally saw the pink wall, the wooden gate, and the copper-coated plate “GAJA”.
This quiet town of Barbaresco is home to Gaja’s current winemaker, Angelo Gaja - “the undisputed king of Piedmont wines”. Other than being a “king”, he is often coined as a “modernist” and the “ambassador” of Italian wines.
He is a bold man. The changes he brought to this winery when he took over more than 40 years ago were no smaller than what Steve Jobs did to Apple. Angelo was unsatisfied with the traditional approach, didn’t want to simply repeat what was done. He made a few giant movies that really rocked (and got mocked).
- To obtain high-quality ripen grapes, he cut yields by 50% with serious pruning in the vineyards and he stopped buying from contract growers - both led to a drop in production in 75% in 1961
- Rather than using the centuries-old approach of fermenting in large Slavonian oak, in which emperature was uncontrollable, Gaja installed the first stainless steel tank in 1974
- Switched to barriques (225-liter casks) in 1978 to age his wine which Angelo believed that this would only help bring out the true Nebbiolo and Piedmont flavors
- Eliminated distribution to small shops and targeted fine-dining restaurants, leveraging sommeliers’ word-of-mouth to reach more customers
- Raised price so to be on par with fine Bordeaux and Burgundy wines
Today, you see Gaja producing superb wines, enjoying undisputed fame in the mind of wine lovers across the world. Of course, Angelo wouldn’t stop here. Gaja has expanded outside of Piedmont, building up significant holdings in Tuscany. The total size of his vineyard is now a massive 240 hectare.
Wine Monopole has selected a very important wine out of Gaja’s portfolio – Gaja Barbaresco 1979
- Gaja Barbaresco is the flagship wine of the estate, using 100% Nebbiolo
- With all the technical changes at the winery, Gaja believed 1978 was the first vintage that showcased his vision
- Luckily, we found a small quantity of this precious 1979 Barbaresco (an important year to Angelo as it was the birth year of his first child, Ms. Gaia Gaja)
Tasting note: Gaja Barbaresco 1979