Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Langhe exposed: Decanter's Great Piedmont Reader Weekend

Decanter’s Great Piedmont Reader Weekend, held in Langhe (Piedmont) from Friday, October 12, to Sunday October 14, was the third in a series of trips designed to take advantage of the company’s position in the industry to expose a small group of its readers to leading proprietors/managers of a selected wine region.  The prior two events were held in Bordeaux and the Duero, respectively, and were both exceptional in their own right.  My prior experiences with Decanter, plus no prior experience with the Piedmont region, convinced me to sign up for this trip.

The scheduled activities for the weekend were: visits to Vajra, Gaja, Poderi Aldo Conterno, and Massolino wineries where we would be led in tastings by the proprietors; lunches and dinners in area restaurants, some hosted by winery proprietors; and a truffle hunt.  Our base of operations was to be the Il Boscareto Resort and Spa.  The Decanter personnel along for the trip were Sarah Kemp, Publishing Director, Emma Jones, Events Manager, and Peter McCombie MW.  I will cover the individual elements of the trip in subsequent posts but my initial, high-level impressions are covered herein.

The weather for the duration of our trip was picture perfect (contrary to pre-trip weather forecasts), with chilly morning mists yielding to bright, sunny days and with temperatures in the low-to-mid 60s.  These clear, bright days afforded clear views of the vineyard-clad slopes of the area; slopes that are bisected by winding mountain roads connecting turreted-hilltop town to turreted-hilltop town.  And, through it all, vineyards claiming various aspects of the multitudes of slopes in their mad dash from hilltop prominence to the valleys below.  The pleasant temperatures were also a boon during outdoor activities such as truffle hunting, vineyard walks, and winery facility tours (extensive in the Gaja case).

Beyond my gratitude for the weather, and the beauty of the Langhe scenery, I would also like to acknowledge the kindness and generosity of each of the proprietors whom we visited.  Our visit coincided with harvest in the Langhe yet these individuals set the time aside (between 3 and 5 hours): to explain the region and their winemaking philosophies and practices; to lead us in tutored tastings of their estate offerings; to host us at lunches (Gaja and Vajra); and to answer any and all questions completely and with an honesty and forthrightness that was truly refreshing.

Giuseppe Vaira
Plus Mom and Dad
Angelo Gaja holding court in the courtyard
Gaja and Gaia
Giacomo Conterno
Franco Massolino
As an example of this generosity, let us take the case of the Gaja visit which occurred on Saturday, October 13th.  First off, the winery does not accept visitors in the normal course of events and, secondly, is closed on the weekend.  Yet both Angelo, family patriarch, and Gaia, his accomplished daughter, were both present to lead us through the day’s activities.  After an architectural tour of the facilities (designed to show how the winery had evolved), and a lesson on the history of the company, Angelo turned the reins over to Gaia to lead us through a tasting of vintage Gaja wines from magnums.  Absolutely phenomenal.  After the tasting, the Gajas hosted us for a lunch wherein a different set of magnums were opened to accompany the meal.  At the conclusion of the lunch we were each given a set of documentation and a magnum of 2004 Gaja Sperss enclosed in a patterned wooden box.  A stunning, unexpected gift that was humbly accepted by each recipient.  Floored us it did.

A feature of the previous Decanter trips had been extended access to leading regional estate proprietors/managers.  This trip did not disappoint in that regard.  We spent 2+ hours with Giuseppe Vaira at a tasting lunch on the first day, followed by a 45-minute truffle hunt (on which he accompanied us), followed by a visit and tour of the Vajra operations during crush – and at which time access was expanded to include his mother, father, sister, and brother – and, finally, capped by an hour-long tasting of the company’s offerings that had not been experienced at lunch.  The Gaja name is one of the most recognized in Italian wine circles and Angelo Gaja has been a tireless advocate of his family’s wines and his region.  We spent an extended period with him and Gaia and I had the distinct privilege of sitting next to him at lunch and to benefit, at a personal level, from his quick wit, sharp mind, and ever-present humor.  He is a storyteller. Giacomo Conterno walked us through an educational tasting of the Aldo Conterno wines (he poured each and every glass) and through the vineyards arrayed in the hills above the winery.  Franco Massolino did much the same, in terms of the tasting, while regaling us with stories regarding the prowess of his aunt at both the bottling and labeling stations in the winery.  The opportunity to listen and learn from practitioners of this art for such extended periods in a concentrated period of time was a very attractive proposition for me.

The team for the Piemonte experience numbered 12 individuals, six of whom had been on at least one of the previous Decanter trips.  It was a fun group that gelled immediately and was, in addition, very respectful of each other’s time, the proprietors’ contributions, and Decanter’s efforts.  The group dynamics and interaction contributed significantly to the success of the trip.
This trip was immaculate in both its conception and execution, with no hitches or hiccups along the way.  I credit Decanter for assembling such a high-powered roster of wineries and enlisting the proprietors in the conspiracy to provide its readers with a host of memorable experiences. Emma (Jones now) was her usual “model-of-efficiency self and excelled at the task of herding cats.  Sarah Kemp descended on us from on high post the lunch on Friday and from then on functioned effectively as the bridge between the team and the proprietors (with all of whom she appeared to have extremely good relations) as well as serving as the fulcrum for many in-team discourses about wine-industry-related issues.

In closing, I must say that this trip was a rip-roaring success.  Decanter once again married its readers’ loyalty, love of wine, and sense of adventure with the food, wines, fabulous accommodations, and people of a leading wine region with the result being a spectacular experience for lucky readers.  I am ready for the next trip to a region that is unencumbered by the weight of our previous passage.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme


  1. That is an exceptional all-star lineup and you transmitted the specialness of it all so nicely in your writing. I look forward to your next post! So glad you could make it to Langhe and .... wondering if you guys ate that huge truffle!?

    1. Thank you for the kind words. Unfortunately, our reward was the honor of participating in the hunt. The sage chief truffle hunter decided that the hunt proceeds would be a burden to us

  2. Wow! This looks great! I am so impressed!