Few wineries evoke excellence and artistry the way the Gaja (GUY-yah) family name does. To utter these two simple syllables is to call forth one of the greatest and most venerated traditions in European winemaking. To mention this family and its wines is to summon an icon and touchstone of Italian viticulture.
The GAJA legacy began in 1859 and is now in its fifth generation as a family-owned winery. With each generation, GAJA has reshaped and redefined the vocabulary of Italian winemaking and the world’s perception of Italian wine.
GAJA was among the earliest independent bottlers of fine wine in Italy. In the second half of the 19th century, a time when most Italian wine was bottled and sold by large estates and cooperatives, the family bottled its own wines from locally grown grapes to serve at the restaurant it ran in the hilltop village of Barbaresco. From its earliest days, GAJA pursued quality over quantity through practices like careful fruit selection and a focus on handcrafted wine.
In the 1960s, the Gaja family looked to expand its land holdings and began to acquire vineyards in some of the top growing sites surrounding Barbaresco. This part of Piedmont, along with the neighboring Barolo zone, is the heart of the Langhe hills, a place that combines the best aspects of Italian and French wine culture, and it was during the tenure of the founder’s grandson and great-grandson that the GAJA winery began to seriously promote their home region of Barbaresco as one of the world’s great appellations.
While generations of wine lovers around the world have reveled in the Gaja family’s contribution to the renown of Barbaresco, within the family itself a place of honor is reserved for their beloved matriarch, Clotilde Rey (grandmother to Angelo Gaja), the second-generation of Gaja to lead the winery into the 20th century.
Two wines have been named for her: Sorì Tildìn, the second wine to be bottled as a vineyard-designated Barbaresco (1970), which refers to Clotilde Rey’s nickname, Tildìn; and Gaia & Rey, the winery’s groundbreaking Chardonnay, named for Angelo Gaja’s daughter, Gaia Gaja (born in 1979, the same year Chardonnay was first planted by GAJA) and Rey, Clotilde’s maiden name.
More recently, as the 21st century dawned on a globe ever thirsty for fine wine, GAJA again challenged the conventions of Italian wine and reclassified its renowned single-vineyard bottlings. Reviving an old Piedmontese winemaking tradition, GAJA began in 1996 to blend small amounts of Barbera with Nebbiolo for its crus Sorì San Lorenzo, Sorì Tildìn, Costa Russi, Conteisa and Sperss—wines consistently ranked among the world’s finest. By choosing to remove “Barbaresco” and “Barolo” from their labels with the 2000 vintage, and instead turning attention to the specific vineyard sites behind each bottle, GAJA redefined the notion of greatness in Piedmontese winemaking.
Today, GAJA maintains a commitment to innovation and experimentation—in areas like vineyard management and clonal selection, in particular—providing continuing proof that behind the family’s legacy is a restless drive for the absolute best in quality.