If you’ve learned anything from my blogs, you would know by now that I’m not a great writer. In fact, if any of my high school teachers knew I was writing anything, they would probably roll over and die. Come to think of it, they’re more than likely all dead by now! So, if there’s a word you’re unclear about, or a small spelling error you’re uncertain about, it’s not you it’s me.
If there’s one place on the planet that would be the last I would visit, it would be Italy! The people, the landscape, the food and the wine… Yes, this is my favorite place on Earth outside of home. I can talk of most areas of Italy since I have been there so many times. But, I want to narrow this to a special place in my heart called, Barbaresco, a small A.V.A. in the great region of the Piemonte – always in the shadow of Barolo which is much better known. It may not be for everyone, unless you want great wine, people, and a quiet peaceful, almost surreal, view of the world, food that will make you drool and a town as old as you can imagine. I won’t give you a history lesson or talk about the Romans and such things. Instead I want to move forward to 1859 when a great family called Gaja started making wine in the area.
I will again fast forward because, although the history is fascinating, my life’s experiences are what I choose to put in to words. And as there were many Gaja’s the one I know and the one I am proud to call a friend is the Greatest Gaja of all, Angelo! To understand this man from a small town of say 600 or so people is to love him. He has been credited with many firsts in a region that was slow to change over the centuries. Understanding tradition in the old world is half the battle to appreciate what he has accomplished. In a place some would say was lost in time, Angelo refused to be locked into a box. He knew there was a better way and single handedly put this small town on the wine world map. Imagine a town of 600 or so on the world stage! I could stop here but I won’t.
Let’s mention a few things he has done; and I will only mention a few because the list is too long for a blog. He introduced controlled temperatures in his fermentations, allowing for a much better balance in his wines that made them less susceptible to infections. They also showed more purity in fruit, expressing the grape, especially Nebbiolo. As we are doing in our wines, controlling temperatures, it’s not by chance. The hotter a fermenter gets, the more you lose. Many flavors just burn off and you’re left with cooked flavors. Angelo was the first to use smaller French Oak Barrels. Until then, there were huge casks only. But Angelo knew he could offset the huge harsh tannin in the Nebbiolo grape with the sweet slowly integrated French Oak tannins…the smaller the barrel more the impact. Also, the wine would mature more quickly in the smaller barrels. This may not have been new to France, but it certainly was a revolution to Barbaresco. Many wines up until then were gone after reaching the 15 to 20 year mark – oxidized. Angelo said, “No more!” Angelo shortened maturations and fermentations to stabilize color. He started his Cru program, meaning his vineyard designated wines. He planted Cabernet where none had ever been, he made world class Chardonnay, Sav. Blanc and the list goes on. It is safe to say, by the world’s standards, this man is a visionary. Now he has moved his vision to Brunello where he makes the finest wine that can be made from the Sangiovese Grosso grape and to the coast of Tuscany where there is Cabernet and Merlot to rival the great French and California Producers. Everything this man touches turns to gold not because he’s lucky but because he is truly a genius.
This is my first posting on my website where someone is called out by name. That’s a little different than usual, I realize. But we’re talking of a world treasure in the wine community. If you get a chance to taste his wines or meet the man I would encourage you to do so. Your life will be better for it as mine has. I can’t mention Angelo without mentioning his beautiful and gracious family. Lucia, his wife, who Angelo could never function properly without. Long after all have gone home from the winery in Barbaresco you can still find her at her desk cleaning up the mess others have left. His children Gaia, Rossana and Giovanni. The two women are now actively involved in the company paving their own trails and soon after University is over Giovanni will join the fold.
In closing, I would like you to know something else that people rarely see in Angelo. He carries himself with more class and dignity in his little finger then I have in my entire body. But he also has a great sense of humor, something I have seen firsthand. For this I am most grateful because we rarely get a chance to be close to greatness. And come to find out, he is as generous and approachable as anyone could be. If you get to Italy, you must make an appointment at one of his wineries. If that’s not in the cards, you must purchase one of his great wines. They are world class so you will pay a little more but the end result will be, “WOW, am I glad I did that!” In the end, however, being at top of your game in anything brings out the jealousy or envy in people. My Father once told me the further up the flag pole you rise, the bigger the target you become. Many people cannot stand the success of another and out of hand have something to say negatively. I’m sure Angelo has experienced such things but being who he is you would never hear him say it…always looking forward never behind. Yes, Angelo has no rearview mirror. That’s why he’s who he is – a true inspiration to the rest of us who seek a small measure of success.
If you’ve never tasted a great Barbaresco, I beg you to right that mistake. It is one of the greatest joys you will ever encounter.
Until next we meet,