The Pope of Barbaresco

A span of time measured in months, years or decades is finite, micro, meaningless. However when measured against piers in one’s own industry these measurements can be vast. This condensed version of time will record that with in this very short period a star was born, a region realized, a building of a new world brand that became a house hold name.  

Not long ago, in fact when I was very young the region of Barbaresco Italy was making it’s transformation from Jug wines, to one of the most important regions in the World. How did this happen? How did a little hill a small quit village nestled at the foot of the Majestic Alps become this destination point for all great collectors. How did this step child to the great wines of France, and indeed it’s older Brother Borolo rival those areas? The answer should not be so easy, indeed it should be down right shocking, however lighting struck in 1940, yes the stars aliened or should I say a star was born. Angelo Gaja came to this world, the son of a wine making family producing wine since 1859. So our story starts with very little in the way of news. I mean a Winery owner having a son and continuing in the family business is no news at all, however that’s not this story.

The man is a true visionary, one that never stops thinking, never stops inventing. I sometimes, after a brief visit which I am always truly grateful

wonder how he found the time. From any normal morning after reading seven or so newspapers, he wonders off to the office. Just down the street from his home he’s already hatching his new plan or idea that was concocted while sleeping. A true visionary never stops, and it is a wonder to me he can concentrate on not falling off a curb while walking, or crash his car while driving. He leaves his office at 8 pm or later when not traveling and in that you understand the veracity of this man, his boundless energy. It is said that time is a predator and it will never be out run, Angelo might be the exception as time is getting one hell of a cage match. His achievements would take the normal person five lifetimes, but that’s the point, he’s not normal. I suspect he has a cape underneath his always well pressed suite.   

Angelo single handedly put Barbaresco on the world stage. In fact if Angelo was not in the wine business, he could have been one of Italy’s great actors, or politicians. Angelo is Barbaresco, and Barbaresco is Angelo. His blood is of this place, as sure as the Terroir that grows the greatest Nebbiolo. But stardom alone cannot win the day, and visionary’s often fail as they are not brought up with a sense of work or responsibility. So Angelo worked, traveled to everywhere and anywhere people would listen. He sold them on the simple idea that this region of his Father, and Grand Father, this small town was as important as any in the wine world. The village inhabitants had no idea a hurricane was heading it’s way in the form of visitors, fan’s, collectors wanting to meet the Pope of Barbaresco and kiss his ring. A most untasteful thing had happened, because with celebrity always comes consequence. I am sure if asked Angelo would prefer things were still quit, as they were when he was a boy, that will never be again.  With great success comes great responsibility and Angelo has always been responsible.

He has taken the towns castle and rejuvenated it, he has expanded however with very small impact on the original landscape of the town. The visionary will always engage with the topic of the day and is a champion of Global Warming Awareness. Look no further than the speech given at Harvard University. He is always looking for a way forward, with as little impact environmentally as possible. However forward he pushes as this is his nature. Since his first important vintage in 1961, the winery has achieved monumental strides. Now he has Properties in Brunello sitting right next to the iconic and collectable Soldera making world class wines. Of course he also has a property in Bolgheri, the Bordeaux region of Italy. The visionary who brought us Single Cru wines in Barbaresco, and the use of small barrels for aging, now has his little toe in Sicily with the latest project called IDDA. His first joint project with the great Graci Family. There is no doubt more is to come, as an unsettled mind is racing to win, to outlast the predator.  No one should doubt this as my money is on Angelo. A mind at rest is not in the cards for Angelo. I believe with the help of his wife Lucia and three children Gaia, Rossana, and Giovanni all the ideas that were put on hold have been released, as he now has the needed help to complete the dream. So he has unleashed it all, and I suggest you watch with amazement.

Angelo does not want world dominance, he wants a world at peace. He wants to stamp it with the greatest of wines in the regions he endears, allowing those to enjoy the bounty his family has to offer. I have been fortunate to know this man, and I will forever be reminded that he has given much more than he has taken. Yes the town is in much better financial shape, and infrastructure is very sound. With every investment Angelo makes he brings with it financial gain for those around him. This most Modest of men, is also one of the most generous. He lives a simple life, with a simple car, and a modest home. He does not boast or show off, as he was born in Piedmont and believes as many do born in this region. In the end he provides courage, hope and wisdom that perpetuates a drive that can’t be slowed. In racing one must be on the edge, right at the point of losing control, that’s where brilliance is born. Most cannot succeed,  but most are not Angelo, and control has always been part of his discipline. The “King of Barbaresco” as he’s known hates the platitudes, to bad as they are well earned. I think they should promote him and kiss the ring, Pope sounds right.       

A post note: The future in the hands of his children is in a very safe place, as we will know doubt see the vision unfold.

— Greg Linn

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