Angelo Gaja’s property in Bolgheri
Guest post by Peter Marks, MW
On the afternoon of May 14, 2014, I joined a group of delegates from the Institute of Masters of Wine Symposium as we enjoyed an incredible visit to Ca’ Marcanda in Bolgheri. We were graciously hosted there by Gaia Gaja, the daughter of Angelo Gaja.
The name Ca’ Marcanda is a contraction of the word ca’ (casa), meaning “house,” and marcanda, meaning “long negotiations.” This stems from the 18 arduous meetings it took Angelo to convince the previous owners to sell their property. Today Ca’ Marcanda owns 118 hectares (292 acres), 80 percent of which is in Bolgheri; the other 20 percent is in Livorno.
Years ago, this area was used for cattle grazing and growing grains, vegetables, and olive trees. Conditions in Bolgheri are very windy and dry, perfect for the pastureland that was common here for so long. Bolgheri is definitely affected by the sea and wind, but at Ca’ Marcanda the mountains and seacoast are parallel to each other. There is less humidity and less wind here than in Livorno.
At first, it was hard to determine where the best sites were, as there was no culture or history of wine on the property. Gaia explained the main types of soils here:
- Sand, found near the sea
- Clay, which ranges up to approximately 80 meters (270 feet) elevation. Clay—she also called this brown soil—is fertile and retains water well.
- White soil at higher elevations (150–180 meters/500–600 feet), which is compacted clay with limestone. The first 2 meters (6–7 feet) contains a fair amount of limestone, and then you reach hard, compacted clay.
The winery was started in 1996. The building was designed by architect Giovanni Bo and built into the hillside to fit in seamlessly with the environment. To construct the winery, they dug out a big hole and used stones from the property. In fact, many of the materials used to build the winery came from the property itself. In addition, pipes and tiles were repurposed from factories in northern Italy and central Europe. No olive trees were destroyed during the construction; they were all replanted along the perimeter of the property. Olive trees are relatively easy to transplant as their roots only grow a meter (3 feet) deep.
Planting at the estate continued from 1996 until 2004 with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. There are six unique parcels that are picked at different times. The vineyards are young, but the vines are starting to show more of where they’re from, and the quality of the wines is increasing, too.
At Ca’ Marcanda, 80 percent of the vineyards are organic, and the remaining 20 percent (which tends to be on the borders near neighbors’ olive trees and other crops) will be certified next year. The vineyards are managed differently depending upon the type of soil. Rich soils are planted with wheat and grasses to compete with the vigor of the vines. In poor soils, they plant beans to increase the nitrogen content of the soil. They also work the hard, compacted soils to loosen them. There is a movement now to produce wines with less alcohol and yet with ripe tannin, so they are planting more grass in the vineyards to maintain cooler temperatures.
At the winery, grapes are brought in and go through a sorting table before being crushed and gravity-fed into fermentation tanks. The middle room is used for malolactic fermentation. Its floor is made from basalt, and they can easily warm the room. A question was raised about the use of corks, and Gaia explained that you must have more than one supplier. They use three suppliers, and all the corks are tested by an independent laboratory.
Ca’ Marcanda makes three red wines:
- Promis (28,000 bottles per year)
- Magari (80,000 bottles)
- Ca’ Marcanda (20,000 bottles)
and the white Vistamare (15,000–20,000 bottles).
2013 Vistamare IGT Toscana
Vistamare is made from 60% Vermentino (stainless steel aged) and 40% Viognier (wood aged) and is labeled as IGT Toscana since some of the fruit comes from Livorno. Its first vintage was 2009.
- Lovely aromatic freshness of floral notes, orange blossom, peach, and apricot skin. Very dry on the palate with almost a phenolic edge to the wine. Moderate+ acidity, but very refreshing and delicious.
Gaia then presented us with two wines to taste blind.
- Sample #1 was from brown clay soils, which gives more fruit richness and round texture. The wine showed a lot of oak spice, deep blackberry, dark cherry, plum, and licorice notes. It had good firm tannins and balancing acidity on the palate.
- Sample #2 was from white soils, producing a leaner, more elegant wine. The wine had less oak and less ripe fruit. Aromas tended toward herbal, cherry, plum, and raspberry. The wine had more acidity, less body and richness, and less tannin, but was certainly more elegant and refreshing, as Gaia explained. This would likely age longer.
Promis comes from brown soil and vineyards in Livorno. Its composition is 55% Merlot, 35% Syrah, and 10% Sangiovese. Aging includes 15% new French oak. Price: approximately €35.
- Clean, fresh, light herbs, sweet cherry, plum, bright acidity and medium tannins. Drink now to 6 years.
2012 Magari IGT Toscana
Magari consists of 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Cabernet Franc from white and brown soils. Aging: 35%-40% new French oak. Price: approximately €40.
- Very fresh, cherry, plum, cassis, well integrated tannins and medium-full body. An elegant wine to drink now to 8 years.
2010 Ca’ Marcanda Bolgheri DOC
Ca’ Marcanda comes from white soil, which makes the best wine. Composition: 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. Aging: up to 60% new French oak. Gaia mentioned that their wines are not labeled as Bolgheri Superiore because they don’t care to age their wines in wood for a long time. Price: approximately €90.
- This was a cool vintage, and there’s a lot of freshness still in the wine. Aromas of sweet toasty, vanilla oak, dark plum, dark cherry, mocha, and blackberry. On the palate, the wine is very young with firm rich tannins and bright acidity. Oak is dominating right now; however, there’s a nice balance of tannin, fruit, and acid.
2000 Ca’ Marcanda Bolgheri DOC
This was a warm year, and the vines were only 3–4 years old. The roots were shallow at the time.
- The wine displays the acidity that allows this wine to age. Aromas of herbs, mushroom, cedar, cooked broccoli, smoky, toasty oak, and red fruits. Very soft entry on the palate, then the tannins sneak up at the end. Good acidity. Medium+ finish. Drink now to 4 years.