By Nathaniel Bauer Wine and spirits columnist Published Jul 16, 2009 at 4:22 PM

I hope that you enjoyed last week's introduction into the magical kingdom of the Gaja Family. At the very least, I hope it prompted you to explore the wines themselves.

My goal for this week is to articulate in words the brilliant nature of the interview that I had with the lovely Gaia Gaja.

Many people have referred to Angelo Gaja, current owner of Gaja Vineyards, as the King of Piedmont. His eldest daughter, Gaia, is most definitely worthy of the hyperbolized title of princess. She carries on the family name and tradition with pride and passion, while holding "court" with the perfectly blended air of confidence and grace.

Yet if you ever attempt to draw a parallel to her pseudo-royalty and fame as the daughter of one of the most prestigious winemakers in history, she will almost be affronted by the inference and immediately, but delicately, steer the conversation away from herself and back to the only thing that matters to her when the name Gaja is attached -- the wine.

I will tell you right now that the goal of my interview was to have a wine-world superstar like Gaia explain her life in a way that you could all relate to -- and I told her as much. I wanted an inside peek, not at her as a wine celebrity, but of her as an individual and her life as a Gaja.

I began by asking her to describe to the layperson what growing up among all the vines and wine culture in Barbaresco was like.

She said that she had no idea growing up what Gaja really was and no idea what Gaja meant to the rest of the world. Of the 600 or so inhabitants, EVERYONE makes wine. It was a way of life and something that mother and father came home from work and talked about every day. Her grandfather made wine, the entire culture revolves around wine. There is a glass of wine at every table from a young age and with such a small village, very little outside influence to compete with the culture of wine.

I tried to get her to open up a little more about what life was like growing up in such an environment. Trying hard not to be nosy or irritating, I attempted to push a little deeper. She wasn't having it. Instead, she laid out pretty much the same spiel she had given to various other journalists in several other publications I had already read. Even the same line about not ever dreaming about being a ballerina and Barbaresco being a great place to live until you are 14, because after that, it becomes suffocating.

I detail this unwillingness to speak candidly not because I criticize her for not wanting to open up to a complete stranger, and a goofy-looking and awkward one to boot, but as the highest of compliments and the beginnings of a portrayal into the all-encompassing passion this woman possesses for her family and their product.

You see, it wasn't just a mere dodge of a question, but one that seemed in her mind to be absolutely irrelevant.

This was evidenced even more clearly by her answers to the next questions I asked her. First, I wanted to know if she could explain the decision to work for her family.

She first explained that no, her father had not ever voiced expectations or desires for her to join the family business. She had the freedom to pursue what she liked, but she could see from time to time in her father's eyes that it meant a great deal to him. In fact she said, he never once mentioned anything about working for the family during her entire life, but the day she informed them of her decision, her father was so pleased that he bought her a car

She then began to detail her decision to start working for her father. She said that at first it was her desire to carry out the family tradition. As the fifth generation of Gaja wine-making Gajas, she felt a deep sense of pride and honor to be a part of something to much bigger than herself. After learning much more about the operations and receiving more responsibility in the business, it was only then that the passion began.

She explained that it is learning that comes before passion. "Wine is easy to be passionate about. You are selling wine, not Coke, not food, you are selling the history and tradition of your family, but first you must KNOW that product and that history." She said, "And that is the difference between mass-produced and regionally produced wine. Wine that can be made everywhere versus wine that can only be made by one person from one region."

I found this enthusiastic description to be most telling. The only difference between you, me, someone else who is supremely passionate about a wine, their job, their life -- and Gaia, is her unique family history. She began by learning about something bigger than herself, became completely entranced by it, and continues to live that passion every day.

I tried to press the issue by being just a little bit of a wank and asked her how she felt about the status of Gaja and her role as the heir-apparent. I even verbalized her "celebrity status" to myself and anyone else who knew the significance of Gaja in the world just to see how she would answer.

With an easy deflection, and with only just enough glint in her eye to let me know that she knew exactly what I was trying to pull, wasn't going to fall for it, but neither would she fault me for it, she answered simply, "I understand what my father did, I understand the promotion of one of the best wines in the world."

And then, as if the only possible logical next topic of conversation could be the Gaja wines, she segued instead into the future vision of Gaja. She indicated that, "we would like to become more and more ourselves. The wine has to express itself. The wine has absolutely to reflect the special qualities of the area, the climate, but also has to reflect the personality of the producer. Stepping into another world, that is how you know the quality of wine." She described Gaja as "its own little world, a little garden that can always be kept better and better." She described the motivation to understand the personality of each spot that they own and how more personality from each spot can be expressed in the wine.

Then she made the ultimate display of the unbridled passion she has for her family's wine. She launched into the most incredible 10 minute diatribe on manure. Yes that's right, she talked for over ten minutes about the hand selected cow manure that Gaja uses; No hormones for the specially raised animals, the manure is aged for three years during which time special worms re-digest the manure but only if it absolutely pure, the worms actually migrate to the pure manure and on and on. I had to smile, both because the story was amazing in its detail and incredulity, but also because again, the real Gaia that I was looking to write about once again made herself so accessible to the reader by this exuberant treatise on cow poop.

So finally, to conclude this terrific interview I asked the cheekiest of cheeky questions, "So what's next for Gaia Gaja?"

She said that in addition to traveling five months a year (which she enjoys because she likes to be the one representing the brand), there are so many things that she would like to eventually be a part of in the winery: vendor and purveyor relations, starting new projects, and to organize herself better to be more involved in more matters.

I asked one last question, "With all that we've discussed, with your life, with your passion -- what is wine to you?

The Princess of Piedmont, the unassuming, gracious and passionate daughter of one of the most famous winemakers in the world said to me, not the words of an unreachable celebrity, but purely as one who has true feelings for the grape, "To me, wine is the best way to relax. Pour it into a glass, leave it in a glass. Then cook, open the fridge -- do things. Maybe the wine is still closed so you can do something else. Then maybe it starts to open. It is a way to relax because you are obliged to slow down and wait for it to develop. Also, wine requires you to relax with someone in front of you; there is social importance to wine for me. Nebbiolo has such a strong personality, but it is brilliant to me because it requires interpretation, it needs time and sometimes still won't show [well]. But if you take the time to focus on the wine, to relax, it will reward you with beauty."

I thank Gaia immensely for her time, and hope you enjoyed a glimpse into this pretty spectacular woman and her family's brilliant wines.

If you have any other questions regarding the wines or the interview, please let me know.


Nathaniel Bauer Wine and spirits columnist
Nathaniel Bauer has spent the last 10 years as a wine buyer for some of Milwaukee’s finest restaurants. Two standouts include a six-year tenure with Bartolotta’s that culminated at Bacchus as a manager and sommelier, followed by two years as the General Manager and certified sommelier at Dream Dance. Finally late in ‘08 he hung up his wine key to start a family. Even though he is now the Marketing Director for a local software company, Big Bang LLC, wine keeps calling his name. The steady chant that kept him in the restaurant business for more than a decade, even after his several attempts to ignore its call, keeps him up to date on current vintages and producers around the globe. Bauer still visits many Milwaukee establishments, both retail and restaurant, to stay a part of the fantastic wine community in this city. Now, after more than a decade in the wine and restaurant market, he is glad to have no direct affiliations and looks forward to offering an experienced and impartial opinion on how local wine purveyors can be even more successful.