Visit to the Gaja Winery with Gaia Gaja
@ Via Torino 5, Barbaresco, Piedmont, Italy (7/6/2016)

After my drive from Barolo to Barbaresco, Ezio and I walked back down Via Torino to the Gaja Winery. This legendary winery has been a Fine Wine Geek favorite for a long time. In fact, I visited here with Ezio and his friend Gianfranco in the early 1990s. Here are a few photos from that visit. I am currently working on a Fine Wine Geek Gaja page.

For each image, I have posted a compressed (and possibly cropped) version. Click on it to see the original, much larger image.

The winery as seen from above (outlined in blue). The main winery is on the east (right) side of Via Torino.
Across the street is the historic Castle of Barbaresco, which is now owned by the Gaja winery.
This is where we eventually had our tasting (see below).
Original map photo © Google Maps.

The Castle of Barbaresco and the entrance to the Gaja Winery across the street:

The entrance takes you into a courtyard where we waited a minute:
The garage door on the right in the last two photos is the same one that is in my photo of Angelo Gaja from 26 years ago.
At that time, it was where all the grapes were brought into the winery. Now they come in through the back of the winery.

The human door on the left in the upper photos is the entrance to the office where visitors are greeted.

On the table in this office are copies of Edward Steinberg's book, Sorė San Lorenzo
in various languages. I have a 1992 first edition of this book.

We went through the office and were asked to wait in this beautiful room for Gaia Gaja:

Winery History

The Gaja family moved from Spain to Italy some time during the 17th century. The Gaja winery was founded in 1859 by Giovanni Gaja (I) who was born in 1832 and died in 1914. He opened a tavern called "Osteria del Vapore" near the town of Barbaresco where he sold his wine and food. The tavern was down by the Tanaro River which was much bigger back then. There was a ferry service and the tavern was located near the dock. Giovanni left a sizeable fortune to his five sons. All but one, Angelo Gaja (I) squandered their inheritance. Giovanni's son Angelo Gaja (I) is the grandfather of the current owner, Angelo Gaja (II). He married Clotilde Rey. Angelo Gaja (I) was born in 1876 and died in 1944. After his death, Clotilde Rey ran the winery for many years. She was born in 1880 and died in 1961. Close family members called her "Tildėn", and Sorė Tildėn is named for her. Her grandson Angelo has said she was the primary driving force for quality in the winery during her long life.

The grandson of Giovanni Gaja (I) and son of Angelo Gaja (I) was also named Giovanni Gaja (II). He was born in 1908 and was the father of the current owner, Angelo Gaja (II). He was a surveyor before joining the family winery. It was this Giovanni who recognized early on the need to own the vineyards. He bought significant vineyard acreage in the 1960s including the 3 Barbaresco Crus (Sorė San Lorenzo, Sorė Tildėn and Costa Russi). Note that this was well before Giovanni Conterno bought Cascina Francia (1974) or Bruno Giacosa bought Falletto (1980). In 1937, he was also the first to put the name Gaja (in large red type) on his labels. Giovanni Gaja (II) was the mayor of Barbaresco from 1958 to 1983.

The current owner Angelo Gaja (II) was born in 1940 and joined the winery in 1961. He earned a degree in enology in 1960 from Enological Institute of Alba, and a master's degree in economics from the University of Torino.

Angelo Gaja (II) and his wife Lucia have a son Giovanni (III) and two daughters, Gaia and Rossana (a.k.a. Rossj), who are all active in the family business today.

Gaia Gaja earned a degree in Business Administration from the University of Pavia and joined the winery in 2004. She has taken over much of the travel and marketing that had been performed by her father for decades. She was the host for our visit. You don't have to spend much time with Gaia before you recognize that she inherited her father's charisma as well as his passion for the winery. The Gaja Chardonnay Gaia & Rey is named for her and her great-grandmother Clotilde Rey.

Rossana (a.k.a. Rossj) is also active in the family business today. The Rossj-Bass Chardonnay is named for her. "Bass" refers to the lower part of the vineyard where the grapes for this wine come from.

In 1970, Guido Rivella was hired as winemaker. He retired in 2014. He was replaced by his long-time assistant Alessandro Albarello, though he still consults on the winemaking.

What's New at the Gaja Winery?

Gaia took us back out into the courtyard, where we met her cute dog, Brieis. Gaia named Brieis after the village
where she found him, which is in the Maira Valley, about 35km west of Cuneo, where she was hiking with friends.

Gaia took us to the back of the courtyard where she told us about what is new at the winery.

The view from this spot is spectacular, covering basically the entire western slope of the Ovello vineyard:

The vineyard in the photo below with the vertical rows is one of two plots used to make Rossj-Bass Chardonnay.
Note that it is facing north and located just south of Via Domizio Cavazza. At the top of the vineyard is the home
of Angelo and Lucia Gaja:

While we stood at the back of the courtyard, Gaia talked about the innovations they are making across the spectrum of wine growing and wine making.

Certainly the biggest change is the decision to return their single vineyard Barbarescos and Barolos to DOCG status by omitting the small amount of Barbera (typically 5%) that has been added to each for many years now. This change was promoted by Gaia and her siblings, but her father approved it.

The change begins with the 2013 vintage. The 2013 Sorė San Lorenzo, Sorė Tildėn, and Costa Russi will be labeled Barbaresco for the first time since the 1995 vintage. The 2013 Sperss will be labeled Barolo for the first time since the 1995 vintage. The 2013 Conteisa will be labeled Barolo for the first time ever since the first vintage was 1996. The DaGromis wines have always been labeled Barolo.

More subtle changes are being implemented in the vineyard where they are working to develop greater biodiversity, both in the vines and in the life in the soil. They are working to develop greater resilience of the vines to changes. They are constantly experimenting with new practices such as new management of grass-growing and the canopy and how and when to prune. Their approach is inspired in part by the biodynamic movement, but they are charting their own path. One simple step, taken as far back as 2004, is to produce their own compost which goes back into the soil in place of manure.

Climate change is a great concern, not only here, but throughout the Langhe. Gaia convinced her father to develop collaborations with well-known botanists and entomologists. In those vineyards affected by this change, it is not only the effect of the heat on the vines (which has led to changes in pruning), but also the soil tends to dry out more easily. So they have stopped cutting the grass that grows between the vines. Instead, they use a heavy roller to tamp down the grass, so that they can still work the vines. Also this forms a blanket that keeps moisture in the soil.

She spoke at length about the impact of monoculture (only one crop in an area, e.g. grape vines here) and how it impoverishes the soil. With the advice of their experts, they went to Alta Langa and selected flowers and plants that used to be common in Barbaresco, but are not now, and they planted these in their vineyards. They are also looking for a greater diversity of vine clones in their vineyards.

They are very concerned about Esca, which is a grape disease of mature grapevines. It is a type of grapevine trunk disease.

Another contributor to the natural ecosystem that has been disappearing is bees. Bees are very important as they contribute yeasts and act like a warning light for the health of the vineyard. To fight unwanted insects they use natural plant extracts like rosemary, garlic and sea weed. To keep certain moths from damaging their vines, they disrupt the moths' mating cycle with pheromones, so now they do not have to rely on pesticides.

The totality of these natural efforts means that starting in 2014, they only used copper and sulfur in their vineyards.

Another change that respects the environment is seen in rectangular patches of bamboo which sit over septic tanks where they recycle all their waste water. Note that it was not until 1964 that Gaia's grandfather Giovanni, as Mayor of Barbaresco, brought running water to the town.

This is their glass recycle bin. It’s the size of a full truck bed as you can see in the photo on the right:

Brieis hangs out while we chat:

Winery Tour

As we enter the winery, Gaia points out their old grape chute which was used to bring the grapes into the winery.
This is behind the garage door in the courtyard photo at the top of this page. Gaia points out that you can see it
in the photo on my website from 1990.

We head downstairs into the winery itself:

Here is the structure underneath the grape shoot above (lower part on the left, upper part on the right):

The aging cellar is quite spacious with many large botti:

And very many barriques:

And more botti:

Then we go into a very special room which is under the courtyard of the Castle of Barbaresco which is now owned by the Gaja Winery.

This special room was created by closing and enlarging the well in the center of the courtyard.

Above the sculpture in the center of the room is the opening to the well in the courtyard:

And below it are stairs to a small round room which is just the bottom of what was the original well:

Outside this room, which is under the halls of the castle, are more botti:

The older botti are from Garbellotto in northeast Italy. The newer ones from Stockinger in Austria.

The entrance to the stairs that take us up into the Castle of Barbaresco. Brieis leads the way:

About the castle from the town webpage with some additional details:
Its construction dates back to the eighteenth century at the hands of Count Galleani. The building is characterized by its imposing size and has undergone many renovations over the years.

Originally equipped with beautiful gardens and a large park, spacious lounges, arcades and especially of valuable underground cellars, it was in the late 19th Century the headquarters of the Cantina Sociale del Barbaresco (the predecessor to today's Produttori del Barbaresco), which was created and led by Professor Domizio Cavazza, who is considered the father of the Barbaresco wine.

Later the building was used as a factory for the production of grappa, now the castle has came into the possession of the prestigious Gaja Winery, and after a radical restructuring, returned to its original designation.
The Castle of Barbaresco (Castello di Barbaresco) is also referred to as the Castello di Galleani.

The ground floor hallways of the Castle of Barbaresco:

The courtyard of the Castle of Barbaresco:

A renovated room on the ground floor of the Castle of Barbaresco:

Ezio & Brieis head up to the first floor:

A view of the courtyard and the Rossj-Bass vineyard in the distance
to the upper left. Cavanna vineyard in the distance to the right:


Gaia prepares for our tasting:

Notes posted from CellarTracker.

Gaia and her namesake Chardonnay:

A view of the Cavanna vineyard from the tasting room:


In the hall outside the tasting room are some historic bottles from the winery.

The bottle on the right is from the late 1940s or early 1950s.
It has no vintage designation. All 3 were made by Angelo's father,
Giovanni, though Angelo was active in the winery by 1962.

1967 is the first vintage for Sorė San Lorenzo.

1970 is the first vintage for Sorė Tildėn. Infernot was a reserve wine.

The 3 Gaja whites:

More recent bottlings of the Barbarescos:

The Barolos and the Cabernet:

Two wines from wineries they bought:

Gaja wines from Tuscany:


Next, Ezio and I went up the street to have a quick lunch at Antica Torre before heading to Giacosa for the afternoon.



All original content © Ken Vastola