When Angelo Gaja took the reigns of his family’s estate in Piedmont in the 1970s, he set about breaking all the rules of Barbaresco - not only planting Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc alongside the native Nebbiolo, but also blending Barbera with Nebbiolo grapes from both Barbaresco and Barolo vineyards, so that many of his best wines could not take those famous appellations. (Read more about Gaja Piedmont here…)
So when, in 1994, it emerged that Gaja was to purchase an estate in Tuscany - a province where planting French grapes and thumbing a nose at tradition had become a way of life with its own breed of iconaclast (Super-Tuscans), one could forgive Tuscan traditionalists to sigh just as deeply as Angelo’s own father did when he started replanting the original estate. And one could almost imagine the Sangiovese Grosso vines digging their roots in just a little deeper in anticipation of the coming armageddon.
Instead, ever the confounder of expectations, Gaja set out to make Pieve Santa Restituta one of the greatest producers of classic Brunello di Montalcino.
Pieve Santa Restituta is named after a tiny fourth-century church on a hill towards the south of the Montalcino appellation, which had fallen into disrepair until Gaja stepped in. Over the following decade, he set about restoring the church and returning the estate, first established in this magnificent, wild countryside, to its former glory. The 4,000sqm state-of-the-art winery and cellars are hidden below ground, while what are most visible are 16 hectares of immaculately manicured vineyards.
Angelo Gaja’s exacting standards, which are upheld by his daughter Gaia - who, these days, is the one tirelessly shuttling between Piedmont, Tuscany and the rest of the world - mean that yields have been drastically reduced and selection has been ruled with a strictness a medieval nun paying her respects at Santa Restituta would have been proud of. No wines were produced in 2002 because of excessive rainfall, nor in 2003 - this time because of excessively hot temperatures.
In the first 10 years of Gaja’s involvement, two wines were produced on the estate, from different vineyards but under the same process - four weeks’ fermentation in steel, 12 months’ ageing en barrique and a further year in 30-year-old botti. Although all are located at around 350m, south-west-facing, have excellent drainage and are cooled by sea breezes from the Tyrrhenian, the soils are subtly different and the personalities are clearly expressed in the resulting wines. Brunello di Montalcino Rennina comes from three parcels with lime-rich sandy soil and tends to be the more delicate of the two expressions. Sugarille is the parcel closest to the walls of the church. Its compact, chalky, stony soil produces a powerful, compelling single-vineyard Brunello with more tannic structure and ageing potential to rival anything coming from Montalcino.
In 2005, Gaja introduced a blended Brunello di Montalcino, using grapes from Sugarille and the Rennina vineyards, with the addition of other Sangiovese grapes sourced from the north-eastern corner of Montalcino. Gaja’s signature winery techniques - temperature-controlled vinification, use of barriques etc - produce a deep red Brunello with polished tannins, plum-pudding richness and a long finish.
Already the UK distributor of Gaja’s Piemontese wines in the 1990s, Armit Wines was pleased to be appointed UK importer of Pieve Santa Restituta from the beginning, and ever since.