The Distinguished and Indefatigable Angelo Gaja

angelo1.jpg Whom did we meet earlier this week? None other than the distinguished and indefatigable Angelo Gaja who was in India on a whirlwind three-city tour of Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. Pictured to the left is Angelo Gaja at the Ca Marcanda vineyards in Tuscany, Italy.

During the meeting he spoke about his family’s history in wine, the growing profile of Italian wines on the international market, the tension between tradition and modernity and the importance of maintaining both. Ca Marcanda means “endless negotiations” in Italian and that’s what he named the vineyard after negotiating with his brothers for it. Gaja wines are imported by Brindco Ltd.

I heard again the story of the wine estate he bought in Bolgheri, Tuscany, and the unique winery he built, after endless negotiations with two septuagenarian brothers. Angelo was convinced the quality of the terroir on their property was the best for his style of wine and even though at first the brothers refused to sign, Angelo persisted until they finally capitulated. The new winery is entirely surrounded by ancient olive trees that were carefully preserved and replanted. Architect Giovanni Bo designed an innovative, state-of-the-art winery that is perfectly integrated with its setting.
Gaja wines are expensive because no short cuts are entertained or compromises made. If the weather lets them down, or the crop is poor Angelo will cut back production to maintain quality and on principle he will only use the fruit from his own estates where he has complete control. He inherited these exacting values from his father who in turn was encouraged by his own mother Clothilde Rey, a remarkable woman who insisted on the highest standards of quality.
“My father was an artisan and very knowledgeable about terroir,”Angelo says. “He was concerned with protecting the dignity of the wine. In average or poor vintages he refused to bottle his wine.”
The result was that Gaja wines became much sought after, and their price kept rising. “In Italy, my father was a leader. His flagship wine, Barbaresco Gaja, was more expensive than any other Italian wine at the time – even more than Barolo from Piedmont which is a very important wine,”Angelo said.
Scanning the wine list at Travertino last night over dinner, I skipped the Chianti Nippozzano, a family favourite (Rs. 2350) and ordered instead Gaja’s Ca’marcanda 2004 (Rs. 3800). Our meal (maybe we didn’t order right) was indifferent and slow in coming. But the wine saved the evening. It was big and strong and quite able to hold its own despite the disappointment of the food.
Interestingly, Angelo had been telling me just the day before that a good wine is even more important than the food for a special occasion whatever it may be. “The trend today is for smaller meals with one or two, maybe three courses. But if you open a great bottle your guests will understand that you are devoted to them to make them happy.”
According to Angelo we are in a unique position in India. “Today in your country you have the fantastic advantage that the best imported wines are not charged taxes. So it is possible to enjoy these wines at a lower price than elsewhere, ”he said.
Angelo’s contribution to the family business has been the planting of non-indigenous varieties where only the Nebbiolo grape was grown for centuries, and introducing the family’s exceptional wines to the rest of the world.

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