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Houston Press: Famed Italian Winemaker Gaja Here and Gone In A Day

Restaurateurs Brian Brossa (left) and Michael May (right) of Enoteca Rossa share a laugh with Gaia Gaja.

Restaurateurs Brian Brossa (left) and Michael May (right) of Enoteca Rossa share a laugh with Gaia Gaja Photo by Kate McLean

“We’re going.” Brian said as he flicked the promotion card at me excitedly while I polished stemware. “I need to check my schedule, but…” I inspected the flyer more closely, “…oh, we’re going.”

Gaia Gaja, eldest daughter of legendary Italian winemaker Angelo Gaja, was in Houston Tuesday and kept a tight schedule. Hosted by the Terlato Wine Group, she did a training in the morning, a sommelier lunch at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, an afternoon wine tasting at Da Marco Cucina E Vino, and a wine dinner at Potente. For Italian wine lovers, attending either of these events is the equivalent of front row seats to Beyoncé.

It’s nothing new that Houston lures reputable winemakers from around the world. We’re an attractive, thriving market of wine drinkers after all. Industry people who are sometimes too busy to break away from work certainly find a reason when iconic wine houses like Gaja come to town. Her stay in the United States, a brief one, includes stops in Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, and Florida.

The vineyards of Gaja are located in the Piedmont and Tuscany regions of Italy; the land of Barolo, Barbaresco, and super Tuscans. Gaja bottles have a simple lable; because all they really need to sell their wine are those four letters linked with over 150 years of practice and good decision making.

Angelo Gaja, who began working the family business in 1961 modernized their technique in addition to adding new grape varietals into the fold. While Gaja was always good, once Angelo got his hands on the vines they became great. In reference to side-stepping a deal with Napa Valley’s Robert Mondavi, this legend is reputed to have compared it to, “a mosquito having sex with an elephant: very dangerous and not much pleasure.”

Wine representatives, sommeliers, restaurant owners and chefs milled about, interacting with Gaia Gaja herself while tasting a generous selection of vintages. If you’re interested in tasting Gaja she recommends these:

Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany region): 2001, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2013, and she’s excited about 2016.

Piedmont region: 1999, 2001, 2013, and 2014.

Around the time we tasted the 2012 Brunello di Montalcino (5 minutes in) we all got a little giddy. It’s common at daytime wine tastings to spit, but when you’re sipping Gaja on a beautiful afternoon in Houston, TX, you don’t spit gold.

She likes visiting Houston though. “The people in Texas are very welcoming and I always have a lot of fun when I come here, that’s the real reason.” Behind New York, Texas imports the most Gaja in the United States. Go team. Click here for this article.


– Kate McLean

in the news News

Gaia Gaja: I Want To Play By The Rules

Barbaresco Area evidenziata 70x100

In an interview with The Drinks Business in London, at the Armit offices in London where she launched the 2014 vintage of her three single vineyard Barbarescos, Gaja said of her decision to take the trio back under the Barbaresco DOP, “As much as I love my father’s great confidence and his instinct to do things differently and tread his own path, I don’t have the same nostalgia for the art of blending.”

“To move things forward I need to feel like my decisions are fully my own. I want to feel rooted in the system in Barbaresco and play by the rules, and I think it’s beautiful to show Nebbiolo on it’s own. In the past we used Barbera to soften the blend but I’m happy to sacrifice a bit of the suppleness and juiciness in order to gain more nuances and complexity.”

She added that,  “There aren’t any fights between my father and I because there is trust. If there wasn’t then there would be fights but we’re both working towards the same goal. There’s no revolution to be done – I’m just bringing a new energy to the company and am fine-tuning the details.”

Since the 1996 vintage, the wines – Costa Russi, Sorì Tildin and Sorì San Lorenzo – have used the ‘Langhe’ denomination due to Angelo Gaja’s use of 15% of Barbera in the blend. Gaia Gaja brought them back under the Barbaresco DOP from the 2013 vintage, meaning the three Barbarescos are now made from 100% Nebbiolo.

Gaja thinks Nebbiolo shares some key similarities with Pinot Noir. “They are very similar and very different. They’re both very delicate in both colour and perfume and don’t overpower what you eat. With both you don’t get density but you get intensity. Nebbiolo can be frustrating because sometimes you don’t catch the flavours when you first smell it, because they come out little by little,” she told db.

“Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo are like French and Italian cuisine – French is based on butter and French wines are creamy, while Italian cuisine is based on olive oil and our wines are more like palate cleansers – they clean the palate. I think Nebbiolo is more complex than Pinot Noir – it has more shades to it. It’s best to drink it when it’s either under five years old or over 10 years old as it tends to shut down for a few years during adolescence,” she added.

This May, db reported that Gaja has invested in 20 hectares of land in Etna, a region Angelo Gaja has wanted to get under the skin of for years.

“We’re picking the Cattarrato grapes at our new Etna vineyard at the moment and will start picking our Nerello Mascalese next week,” Gaia told db.

“We’ll have to wait and see about the quality. The wines won’t be branded as ‘Gaja’ as this is a partnership with Alberto Graci.

“We were interested in the project as there are similarities between Nebbiolo and Nerello Mascalese. If we’re happy with the wines then we’ll release them in 2019. I think the wines will have great potential for ageing,” she added.

Here is the link to the article on The Drinks Business:

Gaia Gaja: I want to play by the rules

in the news

Italy Needs Strong Female Examples: Bloomberg Business interviews Gaia Gaja

gaia gaja bloomberg

Click here for the video.

in the news

Gaia Gaja, interview with wine writer Kerin O’Keefe

Veteran wine writer Kerin O’Keefe interviews Gaia Gaja for

Click here for the link.

gaia gaja drinks

harvest report in the news

Angelo Gaja’s reflections on the current grape market in Italy

The following editorial by Angelo Gaja appeared in the Italian national daily La Stampa in January 2013.

After years of low grape production due to the reoccurrence of unfavorable climatic conditions, excess heat, and summer drought, there is a shortage of wine in Italy.

What could happen to Italian wine in 2013?

It’s possible that there will be no wine left by June and that wineries that sell at less than Euro 2 per liter (a price floor for more than eighty percent of Italian wineries) will no longer have any wine to offer.

Prudent, far-sighted bottlers might also contribute to the shortage because they’ll begin stocking up in order to avoid being left high and dry in the months that follow.

It’s a “we’ve never seen anything like it” scenario. There could be panic in the grape market when the 2013 harvest arrives because buyers will be fearful of rising prices.

Someone might become curious and start comparing grape production and wine production reports for the 2012 harvest. They might discover that between independent producers and the cooperative wineries some have reported a drop of up to thirty percent and some have reported no drop at all — the very same sky and in identical geographic areas.

It’s possible that in 2013 Italy could lose its record in hectoliters exported, with Spain taking the lead. It’s another “we’ve never seen anything like it” scenario. And there will surely be those who merely crunch the numbers and blame the Italian wine industry for drops in production and competitiveness. They don’t recognize that wine is a natural product and that the sky is the vineyard’s ceiling. If the weather causes growers to produce fewer grapes, then it’s impossible to sell more wine.

It’s possible that cooperative wineries in Italy (who control more than fifty percent of national grape production) and large winery groups will soften their refusal of the European Union liberalization of planting regulations. It’s also possible that they will agree on a shared strategy intended to introduce a mixed system by 2015: a continuation of planting rights for DOCs and DOCGs and liberalization of IGTs and table wines.

It’s possible that springtime budget analysis for large Italian wineries will reveal that 2012 profits were often penalized by the drop in gross revenue in the Italian market and that the recovery of foreign markets was the industry’s saving grace. This could give greater urgency to investment in those markets, even if that means sacrificing some of the resources earmarked for the growth of the domestic market.

Dire times for the Italian wine media, who survive thanks to advertising, just as in other countries. Tough times as well for the more than two hundred journalistic prizes instituted by wineries and public relations firms, a common phenomenon here in Italy and unheard of abroad. They will became hungry for recognition by Italian writers and more generous in their regard to the foreign media.

Brussels has contributed to this sprint toward foreign markets by financing promotional projects for wine in markets beyond Europe’s borders. Italian national pride has found new lifeblood in these initiatives as winemakers — small and large, in groups or on their own — have embraced an open-order quest to conquer Asia.

And in the meantime, we continue to learn how to explore the world that will come to be.

—Angelo Gaja
January 2013

Translation by Jeremy Parzen, Do Bianchi.

in the news

GAJA featured at the Wine Spectator 2012 New World Wine Experience

GAJA wines were among the stars at the Best of the Boot tasting at the Wine Spectator 2012 New World Wine Experience.

in the news News

GAJA featured in Robb Report

Best of the Best 2012: International Red Wines: Gaja 2008 Sorì Langhe San Lorenzo

Robb Report, June 1, 2012

Since 1859, the Gaja Winery in the Barbaresco region of Piedmont, Italy, has been committed to producing fine wines that express the highly individual characters of its vineyards’ varied soils. Yet despite the winery’s commitment to tradition, its present patriarch, Angelo Gaja, imbues his family’s operation with a modern spirit. Since first joining the business in 1961, he has introduced a number of groundbreaking practices, including the use of French-oak barriques for aging and the production of single-vineyard wines. The Gaja 2008 Sorì Langhe San Lorenzo (, $440) seamlessly bridges the divide between modern and classic styles, conjuring flavors of roasted coffee, cinnamon, ginger, and ripe cherry.

— Brett Anderson

in the news

Angelo Gaja in the New York Times

As quoted by Eric Asimov in the New York Times (March 23, 2012), “Angelo Gaja issues a missive on the state of the Italian wine industry.”

Europe’s Winds of Change

by Angelo Gaja

The Italian wine market is going through a phase of profound change that offers contrasting clues for interpretation.

Domestic consumption is dropping while exports are growing. There are producers who are finding it hard to sell their wines and their cellars are still full of wine. Others take advantage of market opportunities and they empty their cellars with ease.

The current trend of pessimism contrasts with the rhetoric of optimism. Where does the truth lie? The numbers don’t tell the whole story but they help us to understand the current situation.

Nearly twenty-five million hectoliters of Italian wine are exported annually and domestic consumption is just over twenty million hectoliters. Together, these numbers constitute a demand of forty-five million hectoliters, to which we need to add the demand for wine by vinegar producers and users of industrial alcohol. The annual average production of wine in Italy in recent years has strained to meet demand. Will Italian wine fail to rise to the occasion?

Causes that Contribute to a Balancing of the Market

Global warming has contributed to this stress, as has the advanced state of obsolescence of 50 percent of the vineyards in Italy today. But it has also been accelerated by the effects of the European market reforms that were called for, imposed, and implemented by Brussels on August 1, 2009.

These reforms were inspired by common sense — a rare commodity these days. And they were intended to put an end to the waste perpetuated by more than thirty years of public subsidies devoted to the elimination of surplus. And they were implemented by the introduction of measures aimed at re-balancing the wine market.

Once squandered, [European Economic] Community contributions are now devoted to the co-financing of promotion of European wineries beyond Europe’s borders and they have helped exports take off despite the current crisis.

In a short period of time, the number of wineries exporting their products has grown more than 30 percent. A significant number of artisanal producers has begun to ship wines abroad and their success has encouraged to them to combine their resources and to travel beyond Italy’s borders to tell their stories and share their passion, traditions, and innovations. And in doing so, they have helped to contribute to the greater respect that Italian wine now commands throughout the world. As a result, there are many who now believe that the Italian wine market is undergoing a profound and unprecedented structural change that requires them to adopt a new and different cultural approach.

Think Differently

More must be done to monitor and prevent the production of counterfeit wine.

We must stop thinking that we need to compete with one another and that the winery next door is an enemy.

It’s inconceivable that the windfall of European Economic Community contributions for the co-financing of exports beyond Europe’s borders continue uninterrupted: why should European citizens be taxes to achieve this goal?

We must learn how to build business networks using only our own funds.

The domestic market continues to be the most challenging. But its value is undiminished because it’s what shapes and builds business: it’s a mistake to dismiss and neglect it.

The producers whose wines enjoy a healthy presence in the Italian market are often the same producers who reap the rewards of foreign markets.

The balance between supply and demand puts the greatest responsibility on all of our shoulders. And it should impel producers to grow and to become more capable businessmen who are better prepared to rise up to meet the challenges of the market.

March 19, 2012

(Translated by Jeremy Parzen for

in the news

GAJA at the Naples Winter Wine Festival

This past weekend, the Naples Winter Wine Festival was held in Naples, Florida.

The weekend festivities highlight is the live auction.

The 4½-hour auction’s 67 lots raised $12.2 million, surpassing last year’s $12 million and the festival’s $100 million mark.

Since its launch in 2001, the event has raised $106.7 million.

The auction is the now the largest wine auction in the United States and a “who’s who” from the international wine and culinary industry.

For the time, GAJA participated and the winery was represented by Gaia and her sister Rossana.

The auction events for GAJA kicked off on Friday, January 27 with a vintners dinner hosted by Gaia in a private home for 36 people.

The auction’s honorary Chef de Cuisine, Tony Mantuano from Spiaggia, was the guest chef.

The wines that were served, all from Magnum, with the five-course meal included: 1999 Gaia & Rey Chardonnay, 2008 Barbaresco, 1999 Sperss, 2001 Sugarille and 1989 Darmagi.

Gaia & Rey grappa was paired with dessert as well.

On Saturday, the live auction was conducted and the GAJA lot, #46, called the “Casanova of Wine” was secured with a winning bid of $170,000!!!

The lot consisted of:
1 – 5L of 1997 Sperss
1 – 3L of 1998 Costa Russi
1 – 3L of 2006 Sori Tildin
1 – 3L of 2005 Sori San Lorenzo
1 – 3L of 2004 Barbaresco.

In addition to the signed large formats, the winner of the lot will also receive a private tour, rare cellar tasting, and private lunch at the winery hosted by Gaia.

From the Naples Winter Wine Festival website:

The Naples Winter Wine Festival is ranked among the top 10 arts and entertainment events for wealthy Americans. This ranking by the Luxury Institute is based on exclusivity, quality and prestige. Since 2004, the festival has earned the distinction of being the most successful charity wine auction in the nation according to Wine Spectator. The event brings many of the world’s finest vintners and chefs together with wine collectors and philanthropists for a three-day gala in picturesque Naples, Florida.

The trustees’ vision of the Naples Children & Education Foundation (NCEF) made the dream of the Naples Winter Wine Festival a reality. The vision was based on creating an exquisite event, with proceeds benefiting local charities that assist underprivileged and at risk children. These two goals drive the trustees to ensure the festival is a huge success, with a significant impact on the quality of life for our community’s most venerable children.