An ancient family domaine established in the 1850s, the business was revolutionised by Angelo Gaja when he joined in 1961.
Gaja has 100 hectares under vine in Piedmont, producing 18 different cuvées from the region. In good vintages Gaja bottles their three top vineyards (Costa Russi, Sorí Tildin and Sorí San Lorenzo) separately. Their straight Barbaresco cuvée is sourced from 14 different vineyards in the region.
Beyond the historic Nebbiolo and Barbera plantings on the estate, there are also international varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Inspired by his travels around Europe, as well as his oenological studies at the University of Montpelier in France, Angelo Gaja began to experiment with these varieties in the 1970s, convinced they could thrive in the region. It was a controversial move to plant international varieties in prime Barbaresco locations and did not best please his father – so much so that Angelo went on to name his Cabernet Sauvignon cuvée “Darmagi”, a Piedmont expression translated as “what a shame” – something his father would mutter every time he walked past the vineyard.
In 1998 Angelo Gaja expanded his vineyard holdings outside Barbaresco by buying vineyards in Barolo (28 hectares in total), with 1992 the first vintage of his Barolo Sperss. He has since gone on to buy vineyards in Tuscany – Montalcino in 1994 and Bolgheri in 1996 – and Sicily.
Angelo’s children – Gaia, Rosanna and Giovanni, who now manage the property – have introduced new elements to the estate after convincing their father to invest in collaborations with botanists and entomologists, as well as instigating academic research on their vineyards looking for best ways to help protect the region from the rise in temperatures and decline in rainfall.
To preserve the humidity of the soil they only use sulphur and copper in the vineyards (no pesticides or herbicides), and incorporate the use of plant extracts (such as propolis, cinnamon, mint, seaweed and rosemary) in the vineyards as natural defences against pests and disease.
While identified as a modernist of Piedmont, Angelo Gaja’s winemaking processes are more accurately defined as fusionist, employing a combination of modern and traditional methods.
Gaja employs long maceration times for their Nebbiolo wines (up to 30 days) – a traditional method. The wines are also predominantly aged in the traditional, large, old Slovenian oak barrels for maturation. However, many of the wines spend the first six to 12 months in smaller French oak barriques (a third new), before being moved to the larger, old Slovenian oak barrels for the rest of their élevage. The barriques are used to soften tannins and add flavour intensity to the wine.
There are two red wines that incorporate the international varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Darmagi is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for six to eight months in barriques, then 12 months in large oak casks. It is classified as Langhe DOC. The Sito Moresco is a blend of Nebbiolo, Merlot and Barbera from vineyards in Treiso (Barbaresco) and in Serralunga (Barolo) and comes predominantly from limestone soils.
The three white wine cuvées are all barrel fermented and matured in oak for six to eight months.