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An Afternoon with Gaia Gaja

4 Dec

An Afternoon with Gaia Gaja 2015

Finally I’ve managed to share my thoughts on a very special & intimate afternoon with Gaia Gaja at Boccaccio Cellars earlier this year. A big shout out to Anthony D’Anna for organising such a delicious event and Gaia Gaja for being such a human hostess.

An Afternoon with Gaia Gaja 2015

Gaja is at once both one of the world’s wine icons and a controversial winery bucking “traditional wisdom” often being the trend setter rather than the follower.  For me, it’s a sign that the Gaja’s have passion, focus, and, that they are pushing the boundaries.

Over the last six months I’ve drunk Gaja’s wines from over 5 decades of production. One thing has been clear, they are evolving and pushing to make the best wines they can. This evolution has not been insulated from changes in the wine world. Historically, across the world’s greatest wine regions, think Barolo, Barbaresco, Burgundy, Tuscany, traditional winemaking has been interrupted by curiosity with the potential of new world winemaking techniques. Gaja has not been immune from this trend, use of high levels of new oak has being the most obvious example. Something I’m glad to say has been tempered in recent times.


Gaja has a long history stretching back to it’s very beginnings in 1859. The transformation from an largely unknown winery in a region, not valued by consumers to one of the worlds most famous wineries in a very special region certainly didn’t happen overnight.

Gaia Gaja shared with us the history of Barbaresco, the Gaja winery, the challenge of establishing recognition for the region and what the future holds. One thing is certain, the Gaja’s aren’t afraid of pushing against the rules, some rules are meant to be broken. They have had to declassify their Barbaresco from DOCG status simply because the rules don’t fit what they believe is the best way to make their wine. With a nifty slight of tongue, Gaia, refers to this as a reclassification. A simple example being that they tend to pick early before the permitted time for a DOCG to pick. Why because higher vine density, lower yield per vine, flavour ripeness earlier, better natural acid etc. If they waited they could have DOCG, but, they would not be giving their fruit the best opportunity to shine.

Below is a 20 minute video exert from the discussion.

What Separates Exceptional Wineries?

When you look at the great wine producers of the world they often have many things in common. Two of those being passion and continuity.

Passion just makes sense. Continuity well that’s a challenge. Good vignerons are always looking at their wines and vineyards, trying to make them yummier, healthier, more balanced, often by doing less, but, doing it better. Having the knowledge of the past, interrogating trends to find often simple ways to improve is critical. Seeing a vineyard in a cool years, hot years, observing the little patch of vineyard that is not performing and nurturing it. Some wineries employ precision agriculture with high tech imaging of vineyards, others, the eyes of trusted colleagues who have worked with them for decades. These eyes come to know each site, each vine and tend to them like they would a child. This philosophy has given them an intimate understanding of their terroir.

This is precisely the reason Gaja only employ permanent staff. Like many of the world’s great estates Gaja shifted from buying fruit to supplement production to buying and controlling great sites. In the early years as the Gaja Estate expanded, they were forced to purchase old run down houses with vineyards. Over time these have been restored and are now offered rent free to their staff. One of Gaja's Staff Houses Offered Rent Free

The Challenges for the Future

There’s one trend that everyone in the wine world has had to address recently. Every time I catch up with a grape grower or winemaker I always ask what are you working on. Increasingly the response is “Managing climate change”.

Gaia explains the impact of climate change as helping them achieve greater consistency from year to year. The challenge being resultant higher alcohol and pH, with lower acids, fuller riper wines. Now instead of worrying about getting fruit ripe, they worry about sugar accumulation racing ahead of flavour and tannin development producing out of balance wine. On the upside it has opened up opportunities, the grape bunch stalks are now ripening allowing their incorporation into wine, adding tannin, spice and perfume.

The focus has been on rebalancing in the vineyard to meet this challenge. They’ve put money behind their beliefs and are adapting to change by experimenting. They’ve hired half a entomologists (insect gurus) & horticulturist (plant gurus and more) seeking to disrupt their thinking. Not necessarily taking direction from them, but, pushing themselves to use this knowledge combined with their wisdom, gleaned from over 150 years of tending the land to develop their own approach.

Biodiversity – Flowers, Bees, Trees

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Looking after soil health, moisture levels and temperature.

They have replaced direct fertilising using manures, with composting. Composting stalks, vine cuttings, used grape skins and manures allows the worms they’ve imported from America to further process organic waste and add nutrients through their microflora. An approach that has been used world wide with success. Just like your very own garden they’re mulching to cover crops to insulate the soil from the heat of the sun and retain moisture.

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They’re looking to take a natural, yet, pragmatic. Considering technology, balanced with minimal intervention.  Perhaps one of the most radical changes at least in terms of effort has been changing the row orientation at some sites in order to reduce direct impact of sun on the vines.

Nebbiolo Rossato – Not Nebbiolo.


My lasting though was that it takes for a vigneron to understand their sites. Sometimes it takes just as long to convince the consumer of what the vigneron is trying to achieve.

A couple of Wines from the Session

Gaja Wine Tasting at Boccaccio Cellars by Paul Kaan

Costa Rusi had a real elegance vs the masculine Sori Tilden masculinity. Again highlighting the difference small differences in vineyard location can make to the personality of a wine. Both sites are in the image below. Sori Tildin top right. Costa Rusi lower left.

Gaja Vineyards Sori Tildin Costa Rusi Barbaresco Italy

Next Up: Roberto Voerzio

Taking a look at the Lauded 2004 Barolo Vintage … A Wicked Retrospective

23 Jul

2004 Barolo 10 years on Retrospective photo by Paul Kaan

Barolo has undergone a revolution of the last few decades. One that we’ve seen occur across many of the great wine regions of the world. Think Burgundy, Tuscany and even Australia. It’s a cycle where tradition gets overtaken by technology and often ends up with those craftsmen who tend vines and make wine finding a balance between the two employing more restraint to let fruit shine and using artefacts like oak only to layer in complexity not dominate a wine.

Clearly there’s personal preference and market driven style decision to consider. Some people like a balls and all red loaded with tree branches. Personally I’ll stick to the former, the zone where wines of intrigue and personality rest!

Anthony D’Anna’s 2004 Barolo Retrospective demonstrated this perfectly with wines from both sides of the coin.

Beyond that it gave us a chance to see how the vintage was holding up. The consensus, blood well, with some ones entering the drinking window and others still a few years away. The more I drink Barolo the more I tend to think waiting 10 years is a minimum and drinking good ones between 15-20 years of age is a good rule of thumb. Scroll on to ready the wine list and reviews.

2004 Barolo 10 years on Retrospective photo by Paul Kaan

2004: CREAM RISES TO THE TOP – Notes below by Antonio GalloniThe

2004 Growing Season and Wines

One of the key attributes of 2004 is that both quality and yields are high, two characteristics that don’t always go hand in hand. After the torrid 2003, during which the vines ceased vegetative development in order to conserve energy, the more temperate conditions of 2004 led plants to unleash all of their stored energy, which in turn produced a large crop. Diligent growers reported making several passes in the vineyard in an attempt to restrict yields, but there is only a certain amount man can impose on nature. A few wines have put on additional weight in bottle, but those are largely Barolos that already hinted at considerable volume when they were younger. I was also deeply impressed with a handful of entry-level Barolos from top growers that showed far better than I would have ever expected. So much of the wine world revolves around the importance of vintages, yet I continue to believe consumers are often best served by focusing on producer first.

What Am I Looking For at Ten Years?

All things considered, though, the 2004s have aged spectacularly well. At the ten-year mark, I am looking closely at how wines are developing, specifically if the elements in a wine are aging at the same pace, which I consider absolutely essential. In other words, are the aromatics, fruit and overall structural profile in-line, or not? This is the eighth comprehensive Barolo retrospective I have done. Of the four vintages I have covered at the ten year mark, 2004 clearly surpasses 2000, 2001 and 2003 in both overall quality and consistency. That applies to 1999 as well, although I tasted those wines at ages seven and fourteen. The pure thrill in revisiting these wines is only equaled by the same level of excitement I felt when tasting through the 1989s and 1990s a few years back. In present day terms, 2004 is similar to 2008 in style, as the wines are perfumed and graceful, and also (with a few exceptions) much less imposing in tannin than either 2006 or 2010, the two powerhouse vintages of the decade. I expect the 2004s will age beautifully for years to come. In general, the wines will open up at a younger age than the 2006s and 2010s and are likely to fade a bit earlier too, although that is of course in relative terms, as Barolo is a long-term ager compared to most of the world’s red wines.

2004 Barolo Festa – The Good!

Make sure you turn up the volume … the tunes are a part of the wine review!

A video posted by Paul Kaan (@paolovino) on

Cavallotto Riserva Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe – Stunning perfume sappy herbs great mid palate. Stunning balance. Needs time to open. Closed nose. Core of fruit on palate. Big front mid palate oak.

Bartolo Mascarello*Wine of the Night* Made from fruit from Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rué & Rocche. Beautiful secondary development, oppulence, great tannin balance, even long, incredibly rich, poised violets, yumminess. Stunnning. Second time I’ve had this in the last 12 months. Both bottles were superb!

Capellano – Closed looking an edge reduced and meaty. Good length most developed feeling a little hot. Opened and blossomed in the glass.

Massolino Barolo – VA lift. Lots of Secondaries. Tight angular hot alcohol. Beautiful core of fresh fruit.

Massolino Dieci Anni Vigna Rionda Riserva – Jumping out of the glass, vibrant fruit, secondary development. Beautifully layered. Great length of fruit wee hump of tannin mid palate. Lovely acid. Held back by the winery for 10 years before release.

2004 Barolo Festa – The Ugly! OTT Oakey Ones!

Make sure you turn up the volume … the tunes are a part of the wine review!

A video posted by Paul Kaan (@paolovino) on

2004 Baroli Festa! The UGLY! All of these wines tended toward the OTT modernist style with lashings of coarse oak masking what was often an incredible core of delicious fruit. Creating unnecessary angularity and harshness! Great learnings to see them side by side with a number of other wines that got it right.

Poderi Luigi Einaudi Cannubi – Resinous sappy pulling a little short. Again developing well. Sappiness comes through on the palate. Front palate new oak dissruptive.

Elio Grasso Runcot Riserva – Stunning perfume & lift layered with fresh fruit & flowers, unfortunately masked by coarse oak. Searing acidity, edgy mid palate tannin that’s a little too hard. Asking for a little fatty food to enhance it. Heap of oak. Tough wine. Why did they throw this many trees at it! It could have been superb had a little restraint been shown!

Sandrone Le Vigne – Cooked over ripe jammy. Hard oak tannin coarse. Unyielding. Barossa of Barolo. Tough wine.

Azelia San Rocco & Bricco Fiasco – were just that! Oaky sappy hot alcoholic. Unexpressive. OTT WTF? Potential tainted.

Rocche Castamagna, Rocche dell’Annunziata – Boring, cooked out of balance.

Clerico Pajana WTF pushing the boundaries. OTT too much oak.