Visit to the G.D. Vajra Winery
@ Via delle Viole 25, Frazione Vergne, Barolo, Piedmont, Italy (7/3/2016)

My first stop in the Langhe was a visit to the G.D. Vajra Winery. There I met with Giuseppe, Francesca, and Isidoro "Isi" Vaira, and briefly with their parents, Aldo and Milena Vaira.

Members of my old Barolo group and I had had dinner with Giuseppe and Isi at La Festa del Barolo back in February, and again the next night at L'Apicio. We had enjoyed their company and their passion for wine so much, that a visit here was near the top of my list during my all too brief stay in Barolo. This is unquestionably a rising star in the Langhe as the pioneering parents slowly pass the reigns to their energetic children.

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

The Vajra Winery is located in the Frazione (hamlet) of Vergne,
a few miles west-northwest of the town of Barolo.
It took only about 10 minutes to drive there from my hotel.
© Google Maps.

The Vajra Winery is surrounded by vineyards, primarily Bricco delle Viole.
Their single vineyard bottling of Bricco delle Viole is their best known wine,
and a favorite of the FWG for its ethereal character.
© Google Maps.

The office is the red brick on the far left. The winery is the rest of that building.
In the distance on the right is the fairly new tasting room.

In the tasting room.

I was greeted in the tasting room by Francesca Vaira:

Winery History

The G.D. Vajra Winery (officially Azienda Agricola G.D. Vajra) is located in Frazione Vergne. A frazione is a hamlet outside of a larger town, in this case, the town of Barolo.

The winery is named after Giuseppe Domenico Vaira, father of Aldo Vaira. But it was Aldo who founded the winery in 1972. The winery is in his father's name because Aldo was not of legal age yet.

Vajra vs. Vaira: The family name was Vajra with a j up until around 1918 when the letter j was eliminated from Italian except for foreign words. So when the winery was founded, it should have been "Vaira" but the logo made the i look like a j. Once this happened, given the history of the family name with a j, They decided to keep the winery name with a j. I will use the j for the winery and wines, but the i for the family name and its members.

The Vaira family owned vineyards in this area (primarily in Bricco dell Viole) since the late 1800s. As was common in this period, the family sold the grapes and did not make wine to sell.

Giuseppe Domenico Vaira was born in 1923 in Vergne. When he was only 6, his mother died, and he was sent to a boarding school. Later, as Mussolini rose to power, the boarding school became quite militaristic, and the students were forced to march. Giuseppe Domenico and a friend protested against fascism and these marches. They were sent to prison for this. After the war and the defeat of fascism, this was viewed as a badge of honor, and Giuseppe Domenico was offered a job in the government in Turin. There he marred Francesca who gave birth to Aldo. So, Aldo grew up in Turin and studied agriculture at the University of Turin. He had spent his summer vacations visiting his grandfather (who had remarried by then) in Vergne. As a young adult, he longed for the rural way of life, so in 1972, he moved to Vergne and started the winery.

Winery Tour

Giuseppe Vaira starts the tour, but stops to arrange my visit to Cappellano:

A few of the fermentation tanks:

Stained Glass Windows

Aldo and Milena Vaira felt that everyone who works in the winery should be reminded every day about beauty in order to remember the beauty in the product they are creating. So he had stained glass windows installed in the winery.

They wanted renowned artist Father Costantino Ruggeri to design these windows. Initially Father Ruggeri turned him down due to his heavy workload. Aldo sent him a case of their wine to thank him for just considering doing it. Eventually, Father Ruggeri did agree to do the windows.

In the fermentation room:

In the packing room:

In the bottling room:

Father Ruggeri also did the artwork for the some Vajra labels:
Photo on the left by Eric Guido.

The Barrel Cellar

Next we went down a flight to the barrel cellar where the wines are aging in barrels. The vast majority of these barrels are very large, ranging from 25 to 75 hectoliters, but there are a few small barrels. As Giuseppe explains, these small barrels are needed because the amount of a particular wine is not an exact multiple of the large barrel size. They do not put any Barolo in new barrels. Dolcetto or Barbera goes into the new barrels first.

An unusual feature of the barrel room is an atrium with plants and trees.
It is open to the sky at the top, but sealed from the temperature and
humidity controlled environment of the barrel room.
Photo by Kevin Sidders of VinConnect.

Much of the cellar was blocked off by the 2nd bottling of
2012 Albe Barolo, which had just happened two days earlier:

But wait, there's more. A lot more . . .

Giuseppe grabbed a bottle of 2012 Albe Barolo for our dinner.

Every barrel is labeled and tracked:

Giuseppe Vaira, a happy man:

Giuseppe Vaira, descended from Caesars?

The Vineyards

Next, Giuseppe took me out to see some of their vineyards. Primarily, Bricco delle Viole which almost surrounds the winery and produces Vajra's best known wine. All Vajra wines are from estate vineyards. All vineyards are sustainably farmed. They were certified organic for some time, but the winery decided to drop that official designation due to the bureaucracy involved.

"Bricco" in the Piedmont dialect refers to the top of a good vineyard, but I prefer the more poetic definition: "The place were the snow melts first." "Viole" is Piemontese for the violet flower. Being the highest vineyard in the Barolo zone (in terms of elevation), Bricco delle Viole is the place where violets bloom in the early spring, while there is still snow in the valleys.

The western edge of the Bricco delle Viole vineyard begins right by the winery:

And goes on as far as the eye can see:

Looking east across Bricco delle Viole, the higher part near road (SP3):

Looking east across Bricco delle Viole, the lower part:

Note that there is an even higher part of Bricco delle Viole which is across the road (SP3). Most of Bricco delle Viole faces south. The west-facing side of this hill contains the Coste di Vergne vineyard. The east-facing side of this hill contains the Fossati vineyard. Vajra owns plots in all three of these vineyards, as well as in La Volta (below and across from Bricco delle Viole) and Ravera which is further south, across SP58.

Giuseppe shows me the Freisa grapes planted nearest the winery.
Note how uneven the berries are. This is characteristic of Freisa.

One last view looking east from the western edge of Bricco delle Viole:

A more north-facing portion of Bricco delle Viole being replanted to white grapes:

Beyond Bricco delle Viole, you can see the vineyard of La Volta.
Out beyond that, you can see a bit of Bussia in Monforte:

The Office

Francesca in the winery office:
Can you spot the FWG in this photo?

Huge table made from the roof of a local church that was torn down:

Interesting and historic book on the wines of this region:

The beautiful Vaira family: Isi, Francesca, Aldo, Milena, Giuseppe:

The fermentation room from the outside. Note the stained glass windows:


It is obvious from a visit like this that the Vaira family is as special as their wines.

In the next episode of this trip, Giuseppe, Francesca, and Isi Vaira take me to dinner at Locanda dell’Arco in the lovely mountaintop town of Cissone and demonstrate once again that their wines are truly special.



All original content © Ken Vastola