Gaja open letter stirs controversy: “confusion [in the market] must be pruned back”

angelo gaja winery barbarescoAbove: a “functional” objet d’art in the foyer of the Gaja winery in Barbaresco. It’s one of the myriad works that punctuate the storied cellar.

It seems that everyone in Italy is talking about Angelo Gaja’s most recent open letter, posted yesterday on numerous blogs and Italian wine news sites.

“Angelo Gaja spares no one: journalists, wine guides, colleagues, ingredients in wine on the label…” That’s the title of Slow Wine’s post.

“Angelo Gaja spares no one in his letter: guides, colleagues, practices,” wrote leading Italian wine blogger Alessandro Morichetti on the popular Italian wine blog Intravino this morning. “Well, we have some news for Angelo Gaja.”

My translation of the letter follows. I hope you find it as interesting (and provocative) as I did.


Analysis is a waste of time when it comes to understanding the unstoppable decline in wine consumption in Italy. The conversation ought to be about the CONFUSION [sic] that prospers and thrives as it drives young consumers away.

Wine’s function as a food product is slowly being replaced by its hedonistic role. People once drank “with their stomachs”; today they drink more and more “with their heads.” As a result, niche categories grow and consumers increasingly ask for wine that is natural, organic, biodynamic, sustainable, free, clean, fair…

And producers pander to the demand for these wines. They call for new controls and certifications. Good for them, as long as they do not resort to the use of public funds.

WINE LEGISLATION regulates the practices allowed in making wine and it gives producers license to do just about anything and then some. Just think what would happen if producers who employ the most invasive practices were forced to mention them on the back label of their wines.

Tragically, because of the dutiful movement to prevent the abuse of alcohol, wine ends up being associated and confused with spirits and soft drinks to which alcohol has been added. This occurs despite wine’s history, culture, and the radically different values it represents.

There are five times as many WINE GUIDES in Italy as there are in France. TOP 100 ITALIAN WINE LISTS are equally plentiful and each one is unavoidably different from the next. JOURNALISTIC WINE PRIZES, established to benefit those who write about wine, are more abundant in Italy than in all the other European countries combined.

Tourism promoters continue to drag WINE INTO THE PUBLIC SQUARE, even though the sale of alcoholic beverages should be authorized solely in properly licensed venues.

High-volume producers are accustomed to running their companies. So who would ever expect them to refrain from donning the garb of the GRAPE GROWER, despite the fact that Italian dictionaries define the grape grower as someone “who tends vines (by hand)”?

The same tired DEBATES on how to understand, produce, and sell wine continue to drag on, spurred by both producers and numerous external advisors.

To combat the decline in consumption, confusion needs to be pruned back. And in order to do so, we need respect and courage.

Angelo Gaja
May 28, 2014

4 thoughts on “Gaja open letter stirs controversy: “confusion [in the market] must be pruned back”

  1. With no pun intended — I count on you for the translation. What is your take on the meaning and significance beyond the linked pieces?

  2. Yes, it’s provocative. I love his “Wine’s function as a food product is slowly being replaced by its hedonistic role.” I’m so bored with ‘score whores’, wine is meant to enhance my dining experience, it is not an expensive fashion accessory. Go Angelo!

  3. I’m not sure what AG is trying to address here… but I’m always interested to hear his insights. I do agree with him, wholeheartedly, that the many top 100 lists are driven by the publications and not by the wines. And VG, I’m always with you when it comes to “score whores”… Always interesting to hear what AG has to say… thanks for being here…

  4. I’ve known Angelo Gaja for more than 30 years and have always found him to be filled with incisive, forward thinking rational that is occasionally spiced with a bit of humor. Jeremy I thank you for the translation, I read the Italian version and thought that my Italian was really degrading, but after reading your translation I now know I must be in need of pruning because I am truly confused.

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