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A family wine business called Gaja
IS legendary winemaking about making the best wine, or knowing how to sell the best wine? Italian winemaker Angelo Gaja says that the true wine artisan needs to be able to do both. And few things bring a bigger smile to his face than being featured in a wine list.
"Restaurants are the theatre of wine," declares Gaja in an interview. "I've spent much of life trying to get my wine introduced in restaurants. Private consumers are very important and selling wine to private consumers in wine shops is absolutely important. But to have a wine in restaurants and wine lists is a priority."
That's how the Gaja family got into winemaking, after all. Angelo Gaja's great-grandfather, Giovanni, owned a trattoria. When Giovanni's son - also called Angelo in a family tradition of alternating male names - founded his winery in 1859 at the age of 27, he made wine for the trattoria. Wine outgrew food as a business, and the rest is history, with Gaja carving a niche in the world of Italian fine wine. Today, 85 per cent of its production is exported to almost 60 countries.
"In fine dining, more and more customers like to share premium wines with their guests. Wine plays an incredibly social function there, to make people more friendly and start conversing, to start new businesses over a bottle of wine," says Gaja.
He's proud of his marketing savvy; justifiably so, since his family's black and white label is recognised even by wine novices. That might tempt the uninitiated to take Gaja less seriously as a winemaker but that would be a mistake. Gaja is a trained oenologist and is at home in both the vineyard and winery. He just also happens to have a degree in economics. Gaja has done so much with Nebbiolo, and didn't stop with that grape variety.
His combination of winemaking skill, business acumen and marketing flair was key to him winning Wine Enthusiast magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award last year, which is just the latest in a career draped with accolades. None of that matters as much to him as family, however.
"In terms of life achievements, this is the most important one: to have children who are available to continue the family business, if they are able to work together in harmony," Gaja notes.
And it's for the sake of family that he's taking a step back. His trip to Singapore last December was likely his final. It isn't due to fatigue. He still works 12-hour days. "I've done this for 54 years and I still like what I do; I don't want to retire," he says.
Gaja is just making way for his three children, in a family business that's always emphasised the ties that bind.
His daughters, Gaia and Rosanna, handle the international and domestic markets, respectively, while his son Giovanni is still in school but already intent on joining his sisters. Gaia has been in the business for more than a decade, and Singapore will still get to see her when she visits. Those who want to see Angelo Gaja can still visit him in Piedmont.
Unlike previous generations, Gaja never forced his children to join the family trade. But he has always let them know that "it will give them a chance to have a foot in nature, and another foot in the market". And, last but not least, it gives them the opportunity to "be proud to wear the name Gaja".