The Wines of G.D. Vajra, Piedmont

Many would argue that there are two outstanding, terroir-driven wine regions in the world. One is undoubtedly Burgundy and, high in the hills of northwest Italy, the other is Barolo. In both regions a patchwork of individual vineyard ‘Crus’ is celebrated. Winemakers bottle multiple cuvées of seemingly very similar wines: same grape, same winemaker, the vineyards often only metres apart. Terroir, they say, makes each small plot different, and that’s what creates a distinct expression of their wine.

A prime example of this philosophy is G.D. Vajra, an independent, family-owned and run winery in Barolo. G.D. Vajra owns a total of 80 hectares of vineyard, all at high altitude. They offer several expressions of Cru Barolo as well as wines from nearby appellations like Dolcetto and Barbera d’Alba, and Nebbiolo from the Langhe. Interestingly, the family also champions some less common grapes for Piedmont, including Riesling and the red variety, Freisa. I was able to catch up with winemaker Giuseppe Vajra (right) in a recent Zoom tasting.

Giuseppe showed an image of the Barolo area’s main valleys and location of their vineyards, all at altitude which he describes a “blessing in the time of climate change.” Giuseppe’s father was “a city boy” from Turin, and the only member of the family who wanted to be a farmer. Having spent time living with his grandparents in Barolo in his youth, he began his working life there as a share-cropper, which Giuseppe describes as the “seed of G.D. Vajra.”

Vajra’s wines are certified organic and the estate has been run on organic principles since 1971. Back then, explained Giuseppe, this was seen as a rather strange, even dubious move. Luckily his father found a professor at a local university who was already studying the effect of organic farming – something of a no-go area in a time, just as the influence of large chemical companies was rising.

In terms of the winemaking, Giuseppe says he is “drawn towards,” spontaneous fermentations with natural yeast, but is pragmatic about it and will innoculate with local yeast strains when he thinks the vintage would benefit from them.

Maturation is mostly in large Slavonian oak vats, and in 2019, largely featured here, he used much shorter skin contact than in previous vintages – up to half the normal 50 to 55 days. This, explained Giuseppe, was to counteract a warm and dry vintage where presumably over-extraction was a danger. On 2019 overall, he thinks it is shaping to be a mid-weight vintage, “not at full volume,” that should show minerality and transparency for those who love that style.

The Wines

G.D. Vajra’s UK importer is Liberty Wines.

(2024) A selection Dolcetto grown within the two Barolo appellation vineyards, Coste and Fossati. The family specifically chose plants that had red stems, so even the stems where full of polyphenols. Briar and cherry are the driving notes from a wine with long skin contact but gentle extraction with the cap not submerged, made in stainless steel. There is an intensity to the palate, the concentration of the fruit, acid and the tannin gives a spicy grip in the mouth. There is lovely freshness here in a dry wine that has a juiciness, then ends with a lightly chalky tannin. Though Giuseppe believes this ages nicely for a few years, he stresses that it is not meant to be a Barolo, it is ready to drink.
(2024) Giuseppe talks about the three phases of this wine, once a single vineyard from Bricco delle Viole, but Barbera is sensitive to Esca, a grapevine trunk disease, and the Barbera in that vineyard was lost. Now it comes mostly from another vineyard planted in 2000, which is very steep and terraced. Deeply coloured, it is a highly aromatic wine, the violet and cherry-kirsch notes more pronounced than the Dolcetto. Ageing in large Slavonian oak casks adds and another element of softness in the mouth, though that comes mostly through very fine fruit tannins is delightful, sweetly-edged but with that bittersweet and tart character that  ends with a little spice and a lovely balance.  
(2024) Freisa is a local red wine grape variety, taking its name from the Italian word for strawberry, once used extensively in making Vermouth. Now Giuseppe describes it as 'endangered'. It is a long-stemmed variety, that is often not protected well by the leaf canopy, so farming is key, but still rain and bad weather can severly reduce yields. Again there is a fragrance here touching into violet, a blue-black fruit quality and firmess, but fruit is to the fore. There's a rustic grip to this, certainly in contrast to the Barbera, with sandy tannins coating the mouth giving a chalky dryness. It's an intriguing wine - most definitely a food wine - though the balance here is so fine, the acid retaining freshness and the savoury fruit never lost. In some ways a baby Barolo, which will no doubt benefit from decanting or, even better, some time in the cellar. No UK retail stockists listed at time of review.  
(2024) The newest of Vajra's various Cru Barolos, first released in 2015. From very sandy soils, which Giuseppe believes adds a red fruit aromatic intensity. A dark but quite translucent colour to this, notes of chestnut at first, but an unfurling bouquet, a higher fragrance that has floral and gently leafy green herbs, but there's a real finesse and lightness to this, a brightness and elegance. Yes, the tannins are there, but very fine, so their impact is felt but not oppressive. So taut and polished through the mid-palate, intense, and yet the harmony is what strikes. To be honest this is drinking beautifully right now, though clearly it has substantial time ahead of it. At time of review most stockists offer this wine only by the case.  
(2024) Giuseppe describes this vineyard as having 'lasagne soils,' referring to layers of iron oxide, which he thinks adds a weight to the tannin structure. Aged 28 months in various sizes of Slavonian oak, the colour is a quite transparent ruby, and aromas leap from the glass, all in the floral and cherry spectrum, violet and even a hint of lily, with some ground ginger in the mix. In the mouth it simply bursts with sweet but featherweight red fruits, so juicy and ripe, but all the time tensioned by its taut structure of fine tannin and elegant acid grip. It is medium-bodied and deliciously drinkable now, but once again there is no doubt this easily has 10 years+ of cellaring potential. At time of review most stockists offer this wine only by the case.
(2024) Bricco delle Viole is a high vineyard peaking at 450 metres. It is planted on distinctive chalk soils with iron oxide and manganese. Giuseppe Vajra believes that gives a more restrained personality, from very old vines, some dating back almost 100 years. There's such a polished, luxurious quality to this wine, that begins aromatically with mocha coffee underpinning ripe, dark vine fruits. I tasted this wine twice, not decanted, but the bottle sealed over a couple of days, in which time highlights of violet and a hint of patchouli fragrance emerged, but the calm and collected elegance remained. In the mouth the tannin and acid profile is tight and firm rather than aggressive, spices join the black fruit flavours, with nuances of Seville orange and liquorice adding to the complexity. At time of review most stockists offer this wine only by the case.



  1. Hi tom – is there supposed to be more than one tasting note – there seems to be 5 additional notes embedded, which, plus the Bricco delle Viole would make 6, but they are not displaying (I’m using Chrome).

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