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Gaja's Idda wine project in Sicily?

Tasting with Giovanni Gaja

The wines tasted with Giovanni Gaja (notes by Juha Lihtonen):The youngest member of the 4th generation Gaja family, Giovanni Gaja, ran an array of tastings during two days in Helsinki. He did not present only Gaja wines from Piedmont and Tuscany but 

introduced their Idda wine project in Sicily as well as  their new white wine winery project in Alta Langa. In Gaja family, each generation has taken the family business to new stage – the great grandmother Clotilde Rey ensuring the best vineyard acquisitions in their region, grandfather Giovanni pioneering the sustainable viticulture, and father Angelo renewing the winemaking techniques and expanding the vineyard holdings to Tuscany and Sicily together with his children. Listening two days Giovanni speaking of Gaja wines and projects, it became clear that the fourth generation is exploring the new practices in vineyards to adapt to the climate change and to ensure their access to the top quality grapes. 

“We started to work with external consultants already 15 years ago. We have two etymologists to find new ways to fight against pests because even pests are becoming more aggressive as there appear new species entering to our areas due to the warming climate. We have also two botanists and one geneticist who help us to find ways to help our vineyards to adapt,” Giovanni Gaja explains.

He tells that ten years ago they realised that their vineyards without other plants is a monoculture that has very limited natural protection against the viruses and pests. Keeping the rows between the vines clean from flowers and the plant material drove away the pollinating insects. "When any kind of insect leaves the environment, it leaves an empty spot that can be colonised by other insect which could be very harmful for vines. This encouraged us to plant flowers on our vineyards to attract different insects and get balance in our ecosystem. When we did this, we also discovered that different flowers have different functions in our ecosystem. To name one example, the mustard flowers – when their roots reach certain depth they release to soil substances that purify and clean the soil.

The biggest change on Gaja’s vineyards have been however the use of cover crops – grass, different cereals, lava beans, etc. – which provide protection to vineyard erosion and ensure the water supply to the vines. “We let the cover crops grow until the end of May, and then we press them down to the ground to form a protecting blanket on soil between the vines to keep the water and humidity in the soil. But we need to balance with the cover crops as well, as they have a high water intake capacity and can use too much of the water supplies in the soil. Thus we are now going to plant only 20-30% of our vineyards with the cover crop. We have also now started to plough the soils to ensure that the water gets deeper inside the soil." 

Giovanni stresses that they have to be prepared to change their views and keep their mind open. "We have to keep 30% of doubt in everything and need to question the actions what we do.”

To improve the quality of their vines and ensure healthy vines, they started the massal selection project on their vineyards in 2016. ”We wanted the most resilient plant material on our vineyards, so we started by selecting first our oldest vineyards – Costa Russi, Sorí San Lorenzo, Sperss and Conteisa. In each of these vineyards, we selected ten random rows of Nebbiolo vines and started monitoring every single vine on these rows for six years. As during the 1980s clonal selection was a dominant planting practice, we decided that we will only choose the vines that were planted before the 1980s clonal boom. So, the chosen vines were 45 years old or more. During the next six years we tried to spot from the chosen the vines the ones that showed any symptoms of sickness. In clonal selection these vines would have been immediately disregarded, but for us they were monitored for six years. If the vine healed itself from the symptoms and was able to adapt, this vine showed resilience that we were really after. It showed that it had a gene in its DNA that knew how to fight against the disease. In 2021, when we ended this monitoring project we had selected 280 biotypes of Nebbiolo that were the strongest vines in our vineyards. Now, as soon as we have an empty land space where we can plant them, we will replicate 20-30 vines of each plant and create our own nursery from them. Whenever we need to plant a new vine, we take the vine cutting that has been grown on that vineyard. This is an exciting and ongoing project as in 25 years, the weather will be different again, so we need to do this same thing again.”

All the wines tasted with Giovanni Gaja (notes by Juha Lihtonen/tastingbook.com), click here for wine reviews and points!

 

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