Passion, Tradition, Family, and Barolo
I’m thinking back almost ten years ago, at a time when I was working two jobs to support a young family, as well as writing freelance about food and wine for a number of online publications. In those days, I would take any opportunity that came along to taste wines, often at retail shops or food and wine festivals. Without the means to travel, it was the only way to learn outside of reading, which I also did in every spare moment I could find. On this specific day, it was a 10 am Saturday tasting at a local wine shop that I had received an email about. Even though sipping and spitting wine at 10 am on a Saturday wasn’t necessarily my idea of fun in those days, I took what I could get.
As I entered the shop and approached the table, I watched as a young winemaker poured for the other patrons in the store, speaking about what was in their glass and why he thought each bottle was special. The tasters moved through the range, and most didn’t interact much with the winemaker. Truth be told, the average patron at a Long Island wine store at 10 am on a Summer Saturday is really just looking for a Rose or Sauvignon Blanc to get them through the weekend. However, this man was pouring something very different. This man was pouring Barolo.
Little did I know that ten years later, he and his family, of the G.D. Vajra winery, would be ranked among the top Barolo producers. What I did know from the moment I started tasting with Giuseppe Vaira was that his portfolio of Barolo was something very special. It also didn’t take long to understand why.
In most of these situations, you find yourself across the table from a winemaker, or a representative of a winery, who is simply repeating the same few lines of marketing. Often they are just telling people what they want to hear. However, in the case of Giuseppe Vaira, every word that passed his lips was stated with such passion and love for his family, home, and the vines themselves, that it simply stopped me in my tracks. He had integrity as well, as if he was honor-bound to spread the word (or the gospel) of Barolo.
I found myself completely enthralled, as Giuseppe began to pull out maps of their vineyards, along with pictures of the vines and the roots. He then started to talk about the soil and explained why each location was special. When the tasting was done, I was building a mixed case of G.D. Vajra Barolo, Barbera, Freisa, and Dolcetto to take home with me. I was a fan for life.
Only a year or two later, the name G.D. Vajra was on the lips of every Barolo collector I knew. And now today, I can say without a doubt that they rank among the top ten producers in the region.
In The Beginning: A Passion For Barolo
Although this all seemed to happen so fast for most of us collectors, the reality is that the story of G.D. Vajra starts much earlier, and it was in those early years that the foundation was laid, which has allowed them to succeed as they have. Those foundations were built by Giuseppe’s father, Aldo. Upon meeting Aldo, you start to understand where the passion behind Giuseppe’s words comes from. He too has a way of perfectly communicating the emotions that he feels for Barolo and his home. Going back to the late 1960s, Aldo was a young man who had gotten into a bit of trouble, and so his father sent him to work at his grandparents’ farm in Barolo for the summer. At that time, they were sharecroppers, selling their fruit to the local cooperatives or larger Barolo houses. However, Aldo fell in love with the lifestyle and realized that he wanted to not only continue the family tradition of farming, but also to make and bottle his own Barolo.
He was a visionary in the region, even if his peers didn’t understand at first. Aldo was also one of the first producers to begin using organic practices in the vineyards, as well as focusing on the importance of individual terroirs. In Coste & Fossati, he began planting through massal selection in 1979, Freisa in Bricco delle Viole in 1980, and the first Riesling planted in Barolo in 1980. Located in the small town of Vergne, the focus was on locations at higher elevations, which would go on to define the style of G.D. Vajra to this very day. Before long, fellow producers came to know him as “the most modern of the traditionalists and the most traditional of the modernists.”
It’s interesting to look back on this history and understand the reality of G.D. Vajra’s rise in popularity. While some might argue that it’s the result of global warming, as their high-altitude locations benefit from climate change, allowing them to make a more balanced Barolo in warmer vintages–in my opinion, that’s not correct. I believe it is a change in the palates of Barolo lovers and critics that have opened their minds to a more lifted and finessed style of Barolo. A good example is also G.B. Burlotto and their Monvigliero, a wine that most consumers wouldn’t touch ten years ago. This point truly resonated with me when tasting a 1985 Bricco delle Viole two years ago, a wine that was perfectly mature and a joy in the glass.
Family Values: The Continuation of Aldo’s Legacy
Looking now at the modern-day G.D. Vajra, much has changed in size and scope, yet little has changed about the visionary spirit and family values that drive them. Giuseppe will tell you that no one is an employee in their minds, even as the winery has expanded their holdings to include Ravera, Costi di Rose and the Baudana winery and vineyards. He also explained to me that they average one person per hectare to tend the vines, a number that is unheard of. Speaking of the vines, Giuseppe’s brother, Isidoro, continues the theme of family traditions working in the vineyards, as well as communicating his passion through the lens of a camera, thereby completing the picture for wine lovers who are able to see the beauty behind the wines that G.D. Vajra creates. And of course, both Aldo and his wife Milena remain heavily involved, as does Giuseppe’s sister, Francesca.
They form what I have begun to think of as one of the great wine-producing families of Italy, and when you are with them, you feel as if you are part of that family as well. They challenge you to look deeper and to learn, and in that, they increase your ability to enjoy the wines of their region. Whether you’re blending the components of their Barolo Albe, one of the great values of the region, searching through the vineyards to identify different clones of Nebbiolo, or identifying soil types through the taste of each wine–you are always having the time of your life.
I think that by now you can see how, in the last ten years, I have continued to love not only the wines of G.D. Vajra, but the people behind the wines as well, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.
I will sign off with my tasting notes from my most recent tasting with Giuseppe, where we explored both recent and older vintages from G.D. Vajra and Luigi Baudana.
On To The Tasting Notes
The Barolo Albe is a traditional blend of high-elevation vineyards that the Vajra family puts a lot of work into with vintage to make sure it is not only perfectly balanced (no matter the vintage conditions) but also very well priced. Albe meaning sunrises, refers to the three vineyards of Fossati, La Volta, and Coste, which all see a different exposures to the sun each morning.
Vajra Barolo Albe 2015 – Ripe crushed cherries, spice, cedar, lifting dusty minerals and sweet, sweet florals. On the palate, silky textures were complemented by brisk acids and spice, as crunchy ripe red fruits cascaded across the senses, leaving hints of fine tannin amidst inner floral tones. The finish was long, resonating of sweet red fruits and spices, with backing florals and a twang of lingering acids. This is such a pretty vintage for the Albe, showing how the blending of different terroir can create a wine of wonderful balance in warmer vintages. (92 points)
Bricco delle Viole
I was ecstatic to taste both the 2015 and 2007 in the same sitting. The 2007 has always been a standout of the vintage, going back to tasting it for the first time almost nine years ago, and to this day, it remains a model of perfect balance from a warmer vintage. The 2015 may very well join its ranks over the passage of time.
G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2015 – The nose was deeply expressive yet also remarkably fresh, showing ripe cherries with sweet spice, and dusty florals. On the palate, I found soft textures, giving way to zesty acids and spice, with youthfully angular tannins building toward the finale. The finish was long, remaining fresh throughout through brisk acidity, while notes of cherry, hard red candies and hint of sweet florals resonated. (93 points)
G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2014 – I’m happy to say that I misjudged the 2014 Bricco delle Viole the first time I tasted it. Here I found a vibrant and fresh expression of ripe cherries, dusty blue and rosy floral tones, crushed stone minerality and sweet spice. On the palate, feminine textures presented an elegant mix with bright cherry fruit, savory spice and inner florals. It finished long and structured, with hints of dried red and blue fruits, saline-minerals and fine tannin. (93 points)
G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2007 – The 2007 remains a standout of the vintage, showing a dark and dramatic yet wonderfully balanced bouquet of ripe black cherry, dusty purple florals, sweet herbs and tobacco. With time, dark earth tones with a hint of menthol added to its aromatic depth. On the palate, silky, enveloping textures were offset by zesty bright cherry and spice, as brisk acids carried their weight effortlessly across the senses while also tugging at the cheek. The finish was long and still youthfully structured, with lingering spices and acids adding vibrancy and dried red fruits resonating throughout. (95 points)
The recent attention that Ravera has received across the producers that bottle Barolo from this cru is not always warranted. However, in the case of G.D. Vajra, it’s a stunner. Having first appeared in 2010, and becoming an instant hit, what most consumers don’t realize is that the first vintage was the result of ten years of work in the vineyard. Aldo didn’t want to release a Ravera until it was up to his standards. The 2015 is gorgeous, the 2014 may one day be epic, and the 2012 is already so easy to love.
G.D. Vajra Barolo Ravera 2015 – The nose was dark and intense, showing mineral-inflected black fruits, black earth, wild herbs, and savory animal musk. On the palate, soft textures flooded the senses with saturating minerality, black cherry, and spice, as a savory-almost-salty sensation took hold and purple inner florals amassed.The finish was long, showing its youthful tannins amidst saline-minerality and dark inner florals. (93 points)
G.D. Vajra Barolo Ravera 2014 – The nose showed dark, dried black fruits, both sweet and savory herbs, with dusty black earth and hints of exotic spice. On the palate, soft textures gave way to an unexpectedly juicy expression, as black fruits and sweet spices were made vibrant through brisk acidity. The finish was long, maintaining its high-energy persona, with saline-minerals, sweet spices and a hint of fine tannin. Wow; totally unexpected, and I’m happy to see that I’ve increased my score. (94 points)
G.D. Vajra Barolo Ravera 2012 – The nose was dark, showing savory black fruits and earth tones up front, as a dusting of minerality and dried florals helped to create a remarkably pretty expression. On the palate, soft textures ushered in zesty black fruits and minerals in a cool-toned and energetic expression. The finish was long yet energetic, with echoes of black fruits, earthy minerality and fine tannins. It’s a beautiful wine in an early drinking window, and it’s a standout of the vintage. (93 points)
Baudana di G.D. Vajra
All of the 2015s at Baudana are off the charts. I was amazed at their primary fruit, contrasted by classic structure and purity. As for the 2010, one of the first vintages where the Vajra family felt that they had finally fine-tuned the wines to be more in line with their style, I found it to be beautiful. At first, it was a bit rustic, but the wine came together beautifully in the glass.
Luigi Baudana di G.D. Vajra Barolo 2015 – Black cherries paved the way for dark earth tones, minerals, peppery florals, savory spice and hints of leather. On the palate, I found soft textures, which were quickly firmed up by zesty acids, spice and minerals, presenting dark red fruits and dark inner florals, as fine tannins slowly mounted. The finish was long and structured, showing amazing power and depth for the vintage, as dried black cherry, savory spice and saline-minerality lingered. (93 points)
Luigi Baudana di G.D. Vajra Barolo Baudana 2015 – Here I found floral-inspired black cherry, hints of moist earth, dark violet florals, licorice, animal musk and crushed stone. On the palate, soft, feminine textures gave way to zesty red and black berries, with brisk acids and tannins tugging at the senses while saline-minerals saturated all that they touched. The finish was long yet structured, with drying red fruits, savory spice and minerals penetrating the senses–but through it all, focused with amazing precision. The Baudana has a long life ahead of it. (95 points)
Luigi Baudana di G.D. Vajra Barolo Baudana 2010 – What a pleasure it was to taste the 2010 Baudana. Here I found a dark and savory mix of black fruit, moist earth, menthol, sweet tobacco and hints of animal musk. It was silky, meaty, and rustic in the best possible way on the palate, flooding the senses with ripe black fruits, sweet herbs and spices, as brisk acids and minerals slowly saturated. The finish was long, showing rounded tannins, with cheek-puckering acidity, lingering black fruits and minerals. I didn’t expect a 2010 to be so easy to enjoy already; but fear not, there’s plenty of structure beneath it all to carry this to perfect maturity over the coming decades. (95 points)
Luigi Baudana di G.D. Vajra Barolo Cerretta 2015 – The nose was lifted and floral, showing mentholated spices, peppery florals, crushed stone and savory black cherry. On the palate, I found silky, polished textures, as a mix of red and black fruit flooded the senses, leaving notes of leather, savory spice and rosy inner florals in their wake. It was wonderfully clean and focused with tremendous energy, as the long and lightly-structured finish gave way to earth tones, savory meatiness, minerals and lingering black cherry. (93 points)
Links, Credits and Resources
Article, Tasting Notes and Most Photos by Eric Guido
Visit the official G.D. Vajra website
Thank you to Amanda Sisti for her photos and video from our recent event.
Map images taken from “Barolo MGA, the Barolo Great Vineyards Encyclopedia”, Alessandro Masnaghetti Editore – Enogea – www.enogea.it. All rights reserved”
View the G.D. Vajra and Luigi Baudana Barolo selection at Morrell Wine