On the Road with the Grape Guy

Gaia Visit in Barbaresco at Gaja (Italy)

08 Oct 2021

Gaia and Briss(September 2021) ... We met with Gaia Gaja at their cellar door in the middle of the street... Not the great green gate with the name “GAJA” on the outside (though we did go behind the iron curtain later). From here it’s a short walk with her (and Briss - her dog she rescued during a 2400 m mountain hike) to one of their vineyards. Our walk took us to the Sori San Lorenzo Vineyard where we discussed all kinds of viticulture practices, nursery programs to find the best and most disease resistant clones - plus a new nursery project in the works, plus the difference between monoculture and polyculture in the vineyard: “Viticulture is trying to cultivate life,” she said, “that's why you can't just have one thing in your vineyard, because life evolves and grows and needs other stuff around it to feed off of and stimulate more growth.”

The Gaja winery we see today did not originally set out to be a winery, it started as a tavern and saw the opportunity to make wine as something else to serve their patrons. The first commercial wine to come out was in 1859 ... The tavern would close in 1902 - as the winery took off as a full-time business. The original tavern still exists behind that great green Gaja gate, and the original door is still there and Gaia says one day she might just re-establish it as a tavern (maybe), though she might just be kidding (or maybe not).

Gaja owns 14 vineyards in Barbaresco and for Barbaresco to be produced and called as such it can contain no north facing vineyard slopes - as they are considered too cold and will not ripen the grapes properly (ie: to their fullest potential).  Surprisingly, the first ever vineyard planted by the Gaja family in the region was in 1983 and was not Nebbiolo - it was Sauvignon Blanc. Today, they grow an assortment of both indigenous and international varieties:  Chardonnay, Barbara, Cabernet Sauvignon and yes Sauvignon Blanc. At Sori San Lorenzo the oldest vines are between 65 and 70 years old in a vineyard 2.6 hectares in size.

Interesting to note, the Cabernet Sauvignon they use was planted in 1978 and is made into their wine called Damargi, meaning “too bad”.

The Wines ...

Gaja White Wines2020 Idda
A joint venture with a Sicilian producer, Alberto Gracy, using the white grape Carricante and first produced in 2019. "Idda" is a Sicilian dialect meaning she - which refers to Mount Etna as in “Idda is angry today” ... But this wine is not angry - in fact it is quite refreshing with citrus pulp and pith, but also with a charred lemon saltiness and smells of pistachio shells (salted, of course).  (****)

2019 Gaia and Rey
Vines planted in 1979 (Treviso) and in 1988 (Serralunga) go into this Chardonnay: notes are of salty, lemony all with good acidity ... The wine has nice structure with lemon drop notes - it's opulent, clean and yet refreshing ... But Italy is still not a place I think of for great Chardonnay (someone prove me wrong, please).  (*** ½+)

2018 Barbaresco2018 Barbaresco
Barbaresco may be the most misunderstood wine of the Piedmont region, especially when compared to the more popular and more known Barolo. It is still made with the Nebbiolo grape, grown at a maximum of 8 tons per hectare, it spends less time in wood and is therefore released 1 year before Barolo. As for the 2018 vintage in the area, it was one of challenges: "crazy vintage" was the phrase used to describe it - rain in the beginning, then hail damage … so many problems that the 2018 single vineyard offerings were "lost" and went into this straight Barbaresco; but the single vineyard loss makes for a more upscale base-model Barbaresco: lovely and fruit forward with both red and black fruit taking a turn on the palate - vibrant acidity with notes of both earthy and floral adding complexity offset by gentle tannins - light, fruit forward, incredibly aromatic and well balanced. It's a beauty for a “crazy vintage”.  (****+)

2017 Conteisa - Barolo
Grapes come from the Cerequio vineyard from a season definitely better than 2018. Lovely, fresh dark fruit, spiced oak and smoke with plenty of dark spices to keep the palate interested; and that dark fruit just won't quit - plus there's plenty of herbal notes, which includes anise and clove on the medium length finish.  (****)



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