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The Princess of Barbaresco
By Kevin Reitz

If you compare it to the majority of wineries around the world, Gaja is unique and fascinating. In reality, very few wineries are individually owned. They are instead run by a large corporation, hiring wine-making experts and enthusiasts to build a brand and market it. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this approach, but it is exciting to see a family-run winery in its fifth generation of making world class wine. When you enjoy an Italian wine, chances are you are not drinking a commercial product. You are sampling a family heirloom, sharing in nostalgia. In the particular case of Angelo Gaja, the 72-year-old wine producer has been making wines of exceptional quality for over 50 years. His great-grandfather founded the winery in the small town of Barbaresco in 1859, and his family retains ownership to this day. During the middle of the 20th century, Angelo turned Gaja from ordinary vino into extraordinary high-end wine. In doing so, he has earned the moniker, “the undisputed king of Barbaresco.” While not technically retired, Angelo has already passed the reigns down to his daughters, his princesses, Gaia and Rossana.

Gaia Gaja has been the new public face of Gaja wines for a few years now, with her sister, Rossana, running the business end in Italy. Gaia spends most of her time traveling the world, promoting her family’s wines. She even has a wine named after her. The first white wine to come from Gaja Winery was the Gaia & Rey, which Angelo named after his oldest daughter, and his grandmother, Clotilde Rey.

In Gaia’s eyes, the wines of Italy are unique for more than just their family history. Italian wines will often point the focus not on the grape varietal, but instead on the story. It is less common to find an Italian wine named Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz, but instead the wine’s name itself tells an anecdote. Gaja Barbaresco, perhaps their most famous offering, is an excellent example of this. Rather than focus on the Nebbiolo varietal the wine is produced from, it instead calls attention to the plot of land where the grapes were grown. It is also their longest produced wine, and the flagship offering from the winery since 1859. In the words of Gaia, single vineyard wines like Gaja Barbaresco are a testament to those who worked the vines during each season. It can be a better record of history than words, because you can actually taste the history.

Darmagi is another well-known example of history through wine. Angelo started working with the family winery in 1961, and he came into the business with fresh ideas that flew in the face of tradition, such as incorporating technology into some aspects of wine-making. Some years later, after a string of successful gambles, he made another, replacing the winery’s trademark Nebbiolo with imported Cabernet Sauvignon. Angelo’s father was distraught by the decision, and recalls him saying, “darmagi,” whenever he passed the new vineyard. Darmagi means “what a pity” in their local dialect, and Angelo named the resulting wine to commemorate his father’s feelings.

Anecdotes aside, Gaja Winery makes some excellent wines. It has become synonymous with quality Italian wines. A 2011 Wine Spectator article praised, “For half a century, Gaja has maintained an admirable level of quality. The Gaja Barbaresco 2007, the most recent release, earned 93 points in Wine Spectator blind tasting... His three single-vineyard bottlings from Barbaresco all earned classic scores: Sorì Tildìn 2007 achieved 95 points, each of Costa Russi 2007 and Sorì San Lorenzo 2007, 97 points.”

Gaia makes two journeys a year into China, noting the great culture of wine enthusiasts growing here. And these trips are not limited to the obvious big-city trio of Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. Over lunch, Gaia told me a story of a recent public event she had in Changsha. The attendees who came to meet her were more enthusiastic about wine than many sommeliers. One lady took a train 4 hours to be there, and was heading on a train back home that evening. That is dedication. And when she meets dedication, she responds in kind, ensuring China won’t be overlooked by her distribution network. In fact, most high-end hotels should be carrying her family heirloom, in addition to Italian restaurants like Angelo’s, Ristorante Mulinaccio, and of course, the Mulin Café where we met for lunch.

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My journey from West to East

Inspired by the skills of martial artists Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, 18-year old Tim Vukan and his friends were intrigued by this ancient art. After seeking guidance and training from Ving Tsun Gong Fu instructor Jan Hantelman, a connection was made for life. He shared with us stumbling across a tiny Chinese bookshop and discovering hundreds of books detailing the very art he loved. Intrigued by the images he found within the pages, he often went back to look around. It was here that he found the book that would change his life: Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu. Being the only book he found written in German, it became a part of him, attached to him day and night. After watching a live performance from the Shaolin monks in Hamburg he knew it was time…

After six years of intensive training and teaching in Hamburg and Münster, Tim took the plunge and moved to Dengfeng, Henan to practice directly at the source. Home to many academies and thousands of students, he chose to study at Wushu College where a little girl took him by surprise: “The best teacher I had was a nine-year old girl. She taught me high kicks and how to perform very difficult techniques. She taught me to be honest and kind to people.”

 

What was the most difficult part of your course?

The most difficult part was we had to train very hard every day no matter what condition our bodies were in. Training started at 5:30am and continued all day until 6-7pm. After three weeks of intensive training, I couldn’t walk up the stairs and suffered from heavy muscle tension pain in my legs. Once I was lying in bed, I felt calm and peaceful until the loud Chinese march music woke me up in the morning and it started all over again. This pain is necessary to understand your body. If you want to perform Shaolin Gong Fu and to reach a high level we must go further to feel what it means to have focus.

In Chinese there is a saying 先苦后甜, which means after hard and bitter work there will be sweetness. It means that we have to work hard if we want to achieve something. Everything we do is to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and to learn how to control our body and our mind in different situations. Our body is sometimes weak. Learning Gong Fu is a way to train our minds to tell our body what to do and when to stop. I learnt jianchi 坚持 – it doesn’t matter if we fail or succeed, it is more important to go on. Our body and mind each have their own language and we are able to control our body with our mind. If there is a strong mind and a clear heart, there is a strong body. Many diseases are based on an imbalance of our body and our mind. If we stay focused in the moment, we can prevent illnesses and have a happier life! Gong Fu is a way to choose health and happiness in your life.

 

After Henan, Tim moved to Yangshuo, Guangxi province to continue with taiji quan classes. There he met a woman who was offering taiji sword lessons and became her student, learning taiji next to the Li river. She taught him many things like Chinese cooking and the art of bartering. He felt happiness getting to know a culture which he had always wanted to learn more about.

During his travels in 2004, he really enjoyed Hangzhou. Growing up in Hamburg, he was a part of nature. In Hangzhou, he found he could still have that in the beautiful mountains and bamboo forests surrounding the city. From the beginning of his martial arts career, he often came into contact with Chinese medicine. In 2005, he decided to start studying it. In ancient times, masters of Gong Fu were often also doctors of Chinese medicine – it was a natural progression. Zhejiang Chinese Medical University offered him a place.

 

We hear a lot about the pressure of education in China, did you feel a lot?

The Chinese education system can be very challenging for foreigners. First to master the language and then to get used to the way of teaching. Asking questions doesn’t have much space in classroom; it’s very different to the west. Chinese students are not used to communicating with their teachers, only listening to gain information. This caused a lot of pressure while studying. Preparing for a test required memorizing and repeating facts instead of putting the theory into our own words like back home. Every culture has its own specialties, especially when it comes to education. Now, I often meet young people in the clinic telling me about their life and study and that it made them sick. Young students are often overwhelmed with pressure. I start telling them my story, hoping to inspire them to find their own way to learn.

 

You’ve founded your own company, how has that been? Do you have good support?

I founded Wushan TCM, a Chinese medical network, with the goal to connect the east with the west and to offer Chinese medicine education to students and current practitioners. There are live webinars and recorded online courses about the theory and practice. I also arrange local treatments for foreigners with Chinese medicine and take care of the language translations and clinical arrangements. I work in cooperation with Chinese medical doctors whom I’ve met during my studies and practice over the past twelve years. I want to help people to come to China and to gain their individual experiences.

 

You’ve studied tai chi, TCM and lots of other ways of healing. What would you say is the best medicine?

In our modern times a practitioner has to have knowledge from both western and Chinese medicine to offer the patients the most accurate and suitable diagnosis and treatment. Even though western and Chinese medicine are very different from each other, they can be combined in many different ways. While western medicine is treating the illness, Chinese medicine is treating the symptoms of the patient and finding the source. An example of how they work in harmony would involve undergoing surgery for an external injury (western) followed by Chinese medicine to strengthen the patient help to recover in a more comprehensive way. Both medicines have their limitations and their benefits.

I won’t say that TCM is the best medicine. I believe Chinese medicine can help a lot of people, where western medicine cannot. Above all, the best medicine is when people take better care of themselves and gain more understanding of how we can keep healthy and prevent illness. It’s about our lifestyle, our emotions, our living and working environment, our family situation, our nutrition and so much more. I want people to gain more sensibility about their lives and what makes us ill.

 

What plans do you have for the future?

I would like to combine my life in China with the life in the west. At the moment, I am preparing the German natural license test to be allowed to work and to treat in Germany with Chinese medicine. In the future I want to offer more lectures, seminars and tours in Hangzhou and to give more students the great opportunity to learn from professional doctors. More and more foreigners are interested in coming to China to study TCM. I want to help them however I can. The world will become more connected. Let’s become a part of it!

 

Tim Vukan has been studying and practicing Chinese medicine for more than ten years at the Zhejiang Chinese Medical University in Hangzhou. He founded Wushan TCM in 2008 to connect Chinese medicine practitioners and students by offering Chinese medicine online courses and training tours to enable an authentic education in the theory and clinical field of Chinese health cultivation methods. To learn more, visit the website at www.wushantcm.com.

Campbell House

I first visited Georgetown, the capital city of Penang Island, Malaysia, in 2008. This was just before Georgetown gained Unesco World Heritage designation. I vividly recall the beauty of the decaying historical buildings dating back to the late 18th century British colonial rule. The multi-coloured shop houses with peeling paint stood stoically, telling countless stories of the centuries gone by.

In 1786, Britain established Georgetown to rival the Dutch trading port Malacca in a bid to gain control of the important trade routethrough the Straits of Malacca which connected Europe, the Middle East and India to the west with China, Southeast Asia and Japan to the east.Georgetown began attracting Chinese, Indian and Malaysian merchants and settlers. Each group broughtalong their language, food and religion making Georgetown a very special mix of cultures living together in harmony.

Georgetown’s Unesco World Heritage zone is a compact, easily manageable area that you can walk around in two to three hours. Start at the grand KapitanKeling mosque, built in 1801 by Indian Muslim settlers with its Mughal-style domes and Indian-Islamic minaret, from where the call to prayer can be heard five times a day.

Then wander around Little India with Bollywood music blaring from shops and colorful silk saris on display. Tantalizing skewers of tandoori meattempt you to stop and nibblewhile tables piled with samosas and Indian sweets are hard to resist.Then further to the north, near the coastline are the British colonial buildings that now house banks, western bars and restaurants.

Turn a corner and head towards the Chinese area with colourfulclan houses, temples and shops. Bustling hawker stalls line the streets, selling Penang’s famous street foods like CharKwayTeow, Chee Cheong Fun and HokkienMee. The Chinese community has roots from Hokkien, Cantonese and Hakka and they here are a linguistically talented bunch who easily switch between conversations in Cantonese, Mandarin, their own Chinese dialects, English and Malay.

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