Angelo Gaja, head of the family firm based in the Piedmont region of northern Italy and renowned for top quality versions of Barbaresco and Barolo, says it’s all very well to have your nose in the glass but what’s outside the glass is equally important.
During an 90-minute presentation facilitated by Cape Town wine retailer Wine Cellar yesterday, the 76-year-old wine industry legend did not mention clones or soil type once. “Winemaking is about capturing the spirit of place – politics, literature, cuisine all combine to create place,” he says.
That said, Gaja identifies climate change as a crucial factor affecting wine quality in the future. He considers 1997 and 2003 as the vintages that demonstrated that climate change is a definite phenomenon and says that the result means less variation between vintages – consistently hot summers result in more even ripening on a more regular basis but equally this is leading to an increase in pH levels which is not necessarily ideal. In the vineyard, existing pests are more aggressive while new pests are arriving from outside the region. “We must remain optimistic and learn to adapt,” he says.
Gaja draws a distinction between wines intended to gratify the consumer, whether in terms of affordability or branding, and “original wines”. He, of course, is intent on making original wines and defines himself as an artisan. An artisan winemaker will inherently tend to be small-scale and therefore must work with “heart and soul” to achieve higher quality and promote his chances of survival.
Gaja has diversified into Brunello and Super-Tuscan wines and admits his business is not as small as it used to be, producing close to 1 million bottles across all operations. “My role is to protect the passion behind the business. There will be bad times and passion is like wind-screen wipers on a car – they don’t stop the rain but they do allow you to proceed.”
For all his aphorisms, Gaja is a canny operator when it comes to creating mystique around his wines. There is deliberately no official Gaja website and visits to the winery were only recently introduced at €300 per person, all proceeds going direct to charity.
After the presentation, a chance to taste. With the high quality of these wines, come high prices – Wine Cellar sells the Gaja Barbaresco 2012 for R2 300 a bottle, for instance. However, a wine I thought showed particularly well while not be quite so pricy at RR875 was the Gaja Barolo Dagromis 2011. Dark cherry fruit, liquorice. Pure, fresh and savoury with a wonderfully dry and persistent finish. A classic example. #Winemag Rating: 93/100.