Italy’s Piedmont region has long been regarded as one of the finest wine regions in the world, characterized as it is by its deep and complex, age-worthy red wines, and bright and minerally whites. The region enjoys ideal conditions for viticulture, with cool temperatures and a long ripening season, alongside rich and fascinatingly varied soils which produce wines of outstanding character and elegance. One of the true stars of Piedmont is surely Andre Gaja, who inherited the Gaja winery over forty years ago, and set about something of a revolution in the deeply traditional and conservative Piedmont hills he deeply loves.
Gaja’s influence and impact on the Piedmont wine scene (and on Italian winemaking in general) cannot really be understated. After taking over his family’s winery in the nineteen seventies, he had a vision and an ambition to bring the Nebbiolo grape to new heights, and revive the ailing reputation Italian wines had on the international wine scene at the time. He claims he wanted to highlight the best features of Nebbiolo, while adding a polish and finesse he felt they were missing, and quickly set about modernising his winery and reinventing what his family had been doing for generations. This involved uprooting lesser vines, replanting the historic vineyards, and introducing state of the art, temperature controlled stainless steel tanks to his business. Andre Gaja was also keen to bring in the concept of ageing his wine in small oak barriques, in order to impart more impressive flavors to his Nebbiolo, and make his wines more attractive to a changing, modern international market. Perhaps most controversially, he followed in the footsteps of the Super Tuscans further south, and began planting prime French grape varietals on his pristine Barbaresco land - his Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon vines, grown across his 100 hectare estate, were nothing short of scandalous. However, Gaja’s risks paid off and his success was monumental, with his techniques and vision quickly inspiring other winemakers in the region to follow suit.