Come together: the best co-op wines
Four wines made with a collective spirit
Fecovita, a group of 29 co-operatives in Argentica with 5,000 members controlling 30,000 hectares of vines
Ireland’s farmers will certainly understand the importance of agricultural co-operatives but most wine drinkers are completely unaware of their role in the wine business.
Wine co-operatives are among the biggest players of all. Mike Vesketh in his blog The Wine Economist, reckons they produce almost a quarter of the world’s wine. In Europe, where most co-operatives can be found, they are responsible for half of all wine production. They also played an important part in the development of the wine business in South Africa and South America.
Many date from the economic crisis in the years between the first and second World Wars, when grape growers were desperate to find a market for their produce. In theory at least, the co-op system allowed farmers to maximise their profits, and provided an alternative to the négociants, private businesses that traditionally bought their grapes. The co-operatives were usually set up in politically left-leaning countries (all wine in the communist bloc was made in co-operatives) and were very useful to small producers who did not have the scale or money to develop their own wineries.
However, the egalitarian desire to include everyone, no matter how good or bad, lead to huge quantities of very average wine. Growers were paid by weight, encouraging them to maximise yield and ignore quality. Successive governments and then the EU provided generous subsidies that allowed many co-ops to produce wine more suited for distillation into industrial alcohol than drinking.
These days, most subsidies have dried up and quality-orientated co-ops have far stricter criteria. Growers are paid according to quality, and often have to work with the co-op team throughout the growing season. A few are responsible for some the finest wines of France, Italy and other countries. Regions with scattered smallholdings, such as Piemonte and Alto Adige in Italy, Galicia in Spain, and the northern Rhône in France are ideally suited to quality co-operative production; wineries such as the Produttori di Barbaresco and Cantina Terlano in Italy and the Cave de Tain in France.
In other regions the co-ops have lost ground as ambitious producers now make and label their own wine
Size varies hugely. Argentina has the massive Fecovita, a group of 29 co-operatives with 5,000 members controlling 30,000 hectares of vines – around the same size as the whole of Burgundy. Others are tiny – the Vignerons de Valençay in the Loire has just two members!
In other regions the co-ops have lost ground as ambitious producers now make and label their own wine, although some remain on as members, as it provides a useful outlet for their lesser wines. At times it can be difficult to spot a co-op wine; while some have Union de this or Caves de that on the label, others proudly claim to be domaine-bottled – a co-op member is legally a part-owner of the business, so he or she can claim to have bottled their own wine. Today, four very good co-op wines.
Four great co-op wines
Le Bois de la Tour 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Haut-Poitou
Delicious perfumed, fresh crisp citrus-edged green apple fruits with a snappy dry finish. A good aperitif with goat’s cheese salads or salmon steak with herbs.
Stockists: Widely available including Donnybrook Fair; Fresh Stores; The 1601, Kinsale; Mortons, Galway; Wine Well, Dunboyne; Higgins, Clonskeagh; 64 Wines, Glasthule.
Adega de Pegöes 2016, Colheita Seleccionada, Portugal
A blend of Portuguese grapes and Chardonnay, this is a very tasty medium-bodied wine with juicy soft green fruits, some toasted nuts and a rounded finish.
Stockists: Baggot St Wines; Jus de Vine; The Vintry, Rathgar; McHughs; Martins Off Licence; The 1601, Kinsale.
Langhe Nebbiolo 2015
A very smooth and rounded Nebbiolo with red cherry fruits, hints of spice and a dry finish. Perfect with roast red meats.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer
Saint Joseph 2015, Cave de Tain
Very concentrated savoury dark fruits, black olives and pepper with a solid tannic structure. Excellent young wine. Ideally decant before serving, best with roast duck or a roast belly of pork.