Gaja, Piedmont and the importance of identity

Gaia Gaja tells Club O about the challenges of retaining a Piedmontese identity now that the family empire stretches the length of the country

Words by Adam Lechmere

Photography by Davide Greco and Vanessa Vettorello

Gaja family discussing the importance of identity when interviewed by Club Oenologique
The Gaja family, preparing for an exclusive photoshoot for Club O: (From left) Lucia, Angelo, Giovanni, Rossana and Gaia

When discussing multi-million-euro projects, most executives will use the language of risk management and profit forecasts. Gaia Gaja describes her family’s major new operations in the north and south of Italy as “adventures”.

In a major profile in the spring edition of Club Oenologique, Gaja outlines how the producer has expanded from its Barbaresco base to become a pan-Italian company, operating from the far north to the far south of the country. The new projects – the “adventures” – include Idda Etna, a €4m joint venture in Sicily, and 30ha in the Alta Langa sub-zone of southern Piedmont.

Retaining Gaja’s identity while cementing this extensive empire will be the focus of the next few years, Gaia tells Club O. “Yes, there is a danger of dilution,” she says, citing Ca’Marcanda, the Bolgheri estate that her father Angelo bought 30 years ago as an example. “We need to promote the beauty of Ca’Marcanda better to distinguish it,” she says, adding that she doesn’t agree that only indigenous grapes can confer authenticity. “Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t have a strong connection with Bolgheri, but it doesn’t matter. We believe that Bolgheri has that quality.” 

Behind the scenes at the photoshoot for Club O's spring issue with Rossana, Giovanni and Gaia Gaja (also right)

Cabernet Sauvignon has even less of a connection with Piedmont, and the producer’s Langhe wines include the celebrated Darmagi Cabernet, named after the Piedmontese word for “shame”, which was Gaia’s grandfather Giovanni Gaja’s opinion of his son Angelo’s intention to plant Cabernet in the region. Today, Gaia – and her sister Rossana and brother Giovanni – make clear that the guiding principles laid down by their father, of experimentation in the vineyard, and of the constant need to question everything, will not change. “There are two aspects to our philosophy,” she says. “Strong belief and, at the same time, a strong component of doubt.”

There might be a feeling that the centre of gravity is beginning to shift as Gaja’s operations become more extensive, but Gaia Gaja sees the increasing popularity of Piedmont’s native grape Nebbiolo as key to the future of the long-established Barbaresco company.

The profile is coupled with a major vertical tasting of the Gaja wines, from older vintages of its cru Barbarescos to its Tuscan and white wines (right). Photos by Facundo Bustamante

“[Nebbiolo] has a huge identity,” she says, pointing out that it is indelibly associated with Piedmont, and that as small-scale authenticity and terroir become more and more important to serious wine lovers, it’s those who are rooted in the soil who will be valued most. “The origin of our family is farming. We have been producing our own grapes for generations. We believe in every moment of history of this region, in the value of our product and of the land.”

Above all, the family give the strong impression that the adventure is just beginning. All of them were “like caged lions” in lockdown, Gaia says, with the 81-year-old Angelo coming up with “six new ideas a day”. But that period of enforced reflection “was important for us. It was a time to stop a moment, not do any travelling, to devote time to new projects. To plan.”

The magazine profile  is coupled with a major vertical tasting of the Gaja wines, going back to the 1980s, including its Barbaresco crus, Barolos, Langhe and Bolgheri wines, undertaken by Clement Robert MS.

Club Oenologique Issue 7 cover
The full profile of Gaja is featured in the spring 2021 issue of
Club Oenologique. You can purchase a copy or subscribe to the magazine here.