Angelo Gaja is a living legend! The current owner and president of his family company, Gaja is credited with revolutionising Italian winemaking and is known as "the man who dragged Piedmont into the modern world"!
Born in 1940, he started working for the company at the age of 21. He immediately got to work, experimenting with green harvesting in his first year, single vineyard production half a dozen years later and introducing malolactic fermentation in the 1970s. He planted Cabernet Sauvignon as he reasoned that Italy would only be taken seriously internationally if they produced world class Cabernet. His attention to detail has made Gaja one of the most highly acclaimed Italian wines and their Barbaresco is one of the world's truly great wines.
Now in his seventies, he has handed over the routine running of the company to his daughters, but still works full days. I asked him six questions...
Describe yourself in three words.
A wine artisan
What is the best, and worst, wine you have ever made?
A wine quality depends in a large part on the vintage's weather conditions. If they are awful, like in Piedmont in 1960, 1972, 1980 and 1992, it would be very difficult to produce a good quality wine. If they are perfect, such as 1961, 1978, 1989, 1997 and 2004, then there is the possibility to produce a wine of great elegance. The elegant wines are those which are best at matching with food and making your table guests happy.
If you weren't in the wine trade, is there any other job you would like to do?
I would have been a photographer, to catch the reality which is surrounding us, to focus on only one aspect of it through the lens.
What is your first memory of drinking wine?
I was told that when I was six years old, I drunk a drop of Barbaresco and I was disgusted. I was expecting a sweet and creamy taste, instead dry and austere. I improved a lot with age!
What is your favourite book?
I do not own a TV and purchase ten daily newspapers to read the articles of the journalists which I follow - spread throughout 10 to 12 hours of work each day. Only during the short holiday periods I have do I get to read, I usually choose from the classics, not looking at the top ten bestsellers list.
Name three people, real or fictional, living or dead, that would be guests at your dream dinner party and what would you be drinking?
Winston Churchill for the pleasure of smelling his cigar's perfume at the end of the meal. Mahatma Gandi to suggest he enjoy the Gaja Barbaresco as a way of returning after his long fasts. Finally, I would pick a poor unknown man, taken randomly from the street to see how it feels to him.
We'd drink Dolcetto d'Alba, Barbaresco and Barolo (all served at 14-15°C), a Moscato d'Asti (at a cooler temperature) combined with authentic, old fashioned, seasonal food without a waiter near to reveal the mystery of how it is made or what the ingredients are.