This is the story of Giovanni Gaja, the third generation wine producer in GAJA family. Giovanni Gaja had a clear and ambitious vision of where he wanted to go: he had it in his mind that Barbaresco must compete with Barolo and play on the same field. Back then, this was considered an impossible task, but he was convinced that he would do it and he had faith.

    Angelo’s father, Giovanni, was the man who changed the history of Barbaresco. For 25 years, until 1983, he was the mayor of the village who gave its name to the wine.

    His determination did not make Giovanni an arrogant man, instead he had respect for everybody, he never spoke poorly about anyone, never gossiped. He was known for his silent tenacity.

    He was a dreamer and a craftsman, who time proved right because he had the ability to see far into the future.

    As a boy, Giovanni learned to love the land, and during his time at school he laid the foundations of his master plan. He studied to become a surveyor in Turin, and because his mother had convinced his professors to allow him to stay home throughout October to partake in the harvests, he started his lessons in November rather than September like the other students. He worked fifteen days in Barbaresco and fifteen days in Serralunga for the Barolo harvest. He woke at 6 am even though work in the vineyards only began at 8:30 am when the grapes had finally dried from the dew.

    Back in those days, farmers did not make wine, they only cultivated grapes. The wine business was in the hands of the merchants who would buy grapes, then make and sell the wine. Giovanni had developed such an intense affinity with the land, that after a year of working the vineyards, he could not understand how one could leave the fruits of his labor to others.

    When he joined the winery in the 1930s he was already convinced that his project to produce a great wine must start from the cultivation of his own vineyard, so throughout his life he searched for the best locations with the best soils, those that had the greatest potential.

    November 6, 1969, Florence. Giovanni Gaja at a meeting of the Italian Sommelier Association. At the table, a young Piero Antinori.

    What disturbed Giovanni was that the wines on the market at the time did not belong to those who chose the land and planted the vineyard, or to those who cultivated the grapes, or to who decided the right moment to harvest, and who transformed the fruit into wine. The name on the label was not of an expert working in that profession. Instead wines were from the parish priest, the pharmacist or the notary. Just as he was disturbed by the fact that wines with names of noble families enjoyed greater consideration, thanks to their coats of arms on the label.

    In 1937, to give substance to his master project, he decided to print the label with his surname in red and in a larger size than the name of the wine denomination. The bottle was Barbaresco, but first of all it was Gaja, therefore, the fruit of a philosophy of life.

    But to achieve the hoped-for results, first a problem had to be solved: the precariousness of peasant life, full of anxieties and fears. The mezzadri, or sharecroppers, farmers who worked the land in exchange for half of the harvest, wanted to produce as much as possible and rushed to harvest the grapes for fear that hail would destroy the grapes first. Giovanni was the first to eliminate sharecropping; he transformed the farmers into employees with a secure salary. This made it possible to allow for patience to wait, and to obtain higher quality wine by producing less.


    November 6, 1932, Alba’s Harvest Festival. Giovanni Gaja, third from left, kneeling in front of Barbaresco’s allegorical float.

    Back then high-quality vintages occurred twice or, at most, three times each decade. Giovanni discarded the worst years, and even the average years, making his Barbaresco only with the best vintages thereby offering the market only extraordinary wine.

    And his extraordinary wine was the only wine he drank: he would pour himself a small amount, just a “finger” of Barbaresco and only his Barbaresco, nothing else, and paired it with any food, even chocolate. He had an incredible relationship with his wine: he would observe it at length in his glass, smell its bouquet and drink it very slowly. For him, his wine had an immense value, so much so his bottles sold for the highest prices. He was against giving any discount at all because he said that wine is worth more than money.

    This stoic man changed the history and destiny of Barbaresco, yet he always remained humble; his life rule was to never show off results and riches.

    If he managed to fulfill his dreams it’s because he practiced the culture of doubt: never be too certain, instead, always cultivate a critical spirit for oneself; he said “don’t let tradition be your prison”, we need to always renew ourselves.

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