The Piedmontese barrel cellar near Asti is an absolute Italian excellence
hen tasting a wine we have often perceived the importance of the time it has left to rest on. How many times have we tasted the breath that the evolution in wood has given to our beloved wine.
Enraptured by those scents, a thought becomes constant: vats, barriques and barrels are essential for the successful aging of the wine.
The quality and porosity of the wood, the release of tannins and resistance are all variables that an expert cooper master must necessarily take into account.
To better understand the fascinating world of coopers, we turned to the Gamba Company, a real institution in this noble field.
Master coopers for seven generations now, the Gamba di Castell’Alfero (AT) Italian excellence, capable of withstanding the impact of the passing of time and adapting to the normal evolutions that wine and wood have undergone over hundreds of years.
Active for centuries in the sector; in the 70s and 80s of the twentieth century the Gambas were the first producers of barriques on Italian soil.
To tell us about the company and the processes for creating a barrel, is Mauro Gamba, who with competence and enthusiasm carries on a timeless family tradition, among the sweet and bucolic hills of Monferrato. From the choice of wood to the marketing, what are the fundamental processes for the creation of a barrel? First of all we start from the choice of an excellent product.
Until the mid-1970s we used mostly local woods, but now our choice falls on French oak woods, a comfortable choice, being relatively close to those areas.
In France, wood cutting has been sustainable since the mid-17th century, from the time of the Sun King, and each batch of wood is well mapped and controlled.
Once the wood from beyond the Alps is recovered, a fundamental phase takes place, that of seasoning, in which the wood is left outdoors under the elements so that there is a dispersion of bitter tannins.
The timing is long but necessary: it ranges from three years for the barriques to five for the barrels of great volume and thickness.
All this translates into an important investment both from the time and economic side.
Once the seasoning is complete, the wood is processed: for the barriques we allocate a fire folding while the large barrels are folded with the help of hot water.
The most interesting and scenographic process is certainly that of roasting, for which we create braziers with the scraps of the staves used.
The barrels and barriques are closed with a perforated lid, suitable for dispersing the smoke, while the inside reaches about 210 degrees.
The process lasts about seventy minutes, in this way wood substances such as cellulose and lignin are degraded. Aromatic compounds then develop by pyrolysis which will be transferred from the wood to the wine.
With a light roasting, spicy hints are released; as the roasting is prolonged, the vanilla and caramel aromas will stand out more until you get to hints of chocolate and coffee. After roasting, the products are ready to be shipped.
These words indicate a real pursuit of excellence.
Our goal is to work well, we are not interested in growing numerically; our company has 23 people, so we are able to maintain an excellent quality standard.
Expanding too much would mean having to compromise, an eventuality that we don’t like and don’t care about. Our research tends to diversify the market, trying to break even in the international circuit.
Since ours is a small and ancient reality, we have focused on the quality of the product.
Until a few years ago we worked mainly with local clients; now our niche has expanded and we have managed to open up to foreign countries, so that, in the event that there is a bad year for wine in Italy, we will still be able to work with countries such as the United States, Chile, Argentina, Australia, Uruguay, Israel.
Today our market share is divided in half between Italy and foreign realities.
What were the Company’s production numbers before the Coronavirus emergency? Our production counts approximately 10,000 barriques and 270 large barrels per year.
Last year the turnover dropped by about 15%, fortunately a not too bloody loss. Obviously in March 2020 we were scared because, being Covid a still unknown virus, we feared for the health of our children and for any disinfestations with products not suitable for wood.
We therefore decided to stop during the first lockdown.
This year we are returning to normal, there will probably be a slight decline due to fires, which broke out last year in the United States, which affected the quality and quantity of the grapes.
How important is history for a reality like yours and what is the secret to renew itself and always remain current? I represent the seventh generation of this company; ours is a reality that started towards the end of the 18th century.
To trace our history, we checked the archives of the churches and from there we understood that my ancestor Francesco Gamba, already in the last years of the 1700s, produced barrels and vats.
Our secret is to invest in quality wood and machinery.
actively collaborating with customers, listening to their requests and trying to satisfy them, without being tied to dogmas and preconceptions.