Wine co-operatives

Did you know that around 30% of German wine is produced by co-operatives? And despite co-ops being seen to be typically French or Italian, they exist in South Africa and Australia? And did you know that one of the largest co-ops in Europe has 1,000 growers tending 10,000 hectares producing 600,000 hectolitres in a typical year? These are big numbers. I’ve been studying co-ops for an essay I have to do for my WSET Diploma and have been surprised by much of what I learned.

Simply put, co-operatives are ventures jointly owned by their members, in the case of the wine industry that is mainly the small grower. However apart from the sheer scale of some co-ops, the range of what they do and why they do it is pretty extensive. Some grape growers are members of co-ops simply because they want a ready market for their grapes. Some can’t afford winemaking facilities of their own so get the co-op to make the wine but the grower then sells it on under their own label. Some co-ops are pretty advanced in what they do. CAVIT in Italy and Mont Tauch in France both have experimental vineyards and there are co-ops like Val d’Orbieu who have developed and introduced innovative 25 cl “tetrapak” style packaging. Much Fairtrade wine from South Africa is produced by co-ops who then plough some of their profits back into the community.

Co-operatives are key in the the Champagne region of France. Over half the growers and around a third of the vineyard area is controlled or owned by co-ops. Some only press grapes and sell must, some also carry out the first fermentation and sell the base wines. Some carry out the second fermentation and also sell their own wines under their own labels or return the wines to the growers for them to sell. In the UK, the own brand champagne market is very competitive for the big retailers and co-ops play a very important part.

Ask the average purchaser of wine what they think of co-ops and I suggest you’ll get a blank look. You might, if you are lucky, get someone who remembers the local co-op wine from their holiday in some small French village - they’ll remember it as “plonk”. The co-op movement has come a long way since those days of the 70’s and 80’s of bulk, non-descript wine. OK so a lot of what is produced is vin de pays but, look carefully at the label, and you’ll see that much of what is produced in the Languedoc in France, an area for great value wines, is done by co-ops. Go to Alsace with it’s stunning, under appreciated wines and seek out wines from somewhere such as Turckheim and you’ll see what quality co-ops can produce.

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Reader Comments

Hi Colin, coops are interesting item. Many coops in Spain were founded in the Franco era. The bad economical future in the 1950’s forced farmers to work together. Now this business structure limits the coops to survive in a marketing/sales environment. Especially the very slow decision making processes and the political games people play in the coops take away all the creativity. The average age of 50 is not a very good environment for young driven employees. They normally leave the coop before showing any results.

However form a wine making point of view coops are extremely interesting, showing great potential for great raw material. In general many coops have invested heavily in their equipment to guarantee a high quality basic wine. To reach the next level is is necessary to invest in sales departments, marketing internet and communication. Only few coops have reached this level. When this happens Spain has everything to show some amazing results.

I work as apart time export manager for a coop in Spain, Higueruela, D.O. Almansa aka Bodegas Tintoralba. Especially the wine Higueruela (our young wine is doing very well in the US)

I can already reveal that soon will work as a blog. Probably within a few weeks you can read our first posts. Maybe Bodegas Tintoralba is the first Coop to launch a “coop wine blog”. Is this a news item to post about?