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Understanding Winemaking Cooperatives

Understanding Winemaking Cooperatives

Understanding Winemaking Cooperatives

Winemaking Cooperative

Mention Cooperative Wine Producers and wine buffs will raise a discerning eyebrow while the average wine drinker will just shrug their shoulders as if to say “and?”

The existence of winemaking cooperatives is hardly known to the average wine drinker.
Some (wine drinkers) don’t care where their wine comes from and for others a picture of vines on a sunny day is information enough.
Not much is said about co-ops (cooperatives), while a lot is said about wine regions, vineyards and certain labels.
A lot of knowledgeable wine buffs don’t even bother with cooperative wines, preferring to leave them to languish on the bottom shelves along with the boxed wine.
Yet co-ops play such a huge part in the production and distribution of wine that it’s important not to disregard them.
I’m talking particularly about European co-ops here.

 


What is a Cooperative?
A winemaking co-op is, basically, a group of vineyard owners working together to create and sell wine. They become members, sell their grapes to the co-op who then makes the wine and sells it on.
Strength in numbers helps share costs such as marketing and bottling that can be crippling for the smaller grower.
If co-ops weren’t in place then small producers simply would not be able to compete in the modern marketplace and would be out of business.
Admittedly there are other options available to small growers such as selling juice to “negociants” but here I’m concentrating on the co-op.

Cooperative Winemaking

I, like many people, didn’t realise how important co-ops were to the wine industry.
I learnt about them when I took wine courses but to no further extent than knowing they were there and they were important to the smaller grower.

Co-ops used to have a reputation as producers of poor quality plonk sold en-mass, which is probably the reason wine buffs dislike them so much.
Co-ops were compelled to buy the grapes presented by their members who often kept the best grapes for themselves and gave the bad stuff to the co-op.
The result was wine of the lowest quality and very generic that was released for sale.
Bulk wines are one thing but bulk, poor quality wines didn’t (and still don’t) sit well with connoisseurs.

Today, modern co-ops are trying to undo the image problems of the past.
Cooperative winemaking is BIG business; they make a lot of wine.
Gone are generic bland wines as co-ops strive to produce “terroir” driven wines that are vibrant and speak of where they come from.
There has been investment in state-of-the-art machinery that, along with strict controls enhance the quality of the wines.
One of the biggest changes, especially for European co-ops, is increased and efficient marketing which has historically been poor.
Today’s European Winemaking Co-op has taken a leaf out of Australian and American books and has focused on marketing. As an Old World force in a New World marketplace co-ops have had to adapt they way they do things.
An example would be adding easy to read and colourful labels or mentioning the grape variety on the label rather than just the region or vineyard where it came from.

 


Here’s a few stats to give you an idea of the scale and power involved with cooperative winemaking:

More than ½ of wine production in France is produced by co-ops.

2 of 3 German growers belong to co-ops.

In Italy 60% production is co-op based.

Nicolas Feuillatte from Champagne is the 5th biggest champagne brand and part of a co-op.

Productors Plaimont – South West France’s largest producer with 40 million bottles per year.

Cavit – an Italian co-op with over 4500 growers has re-invented rough Italian Vino in the marketplace and made Pinot Grigio and Prosecco popular again.

 

Take a walk into any supermarket and most of the wines on the shelves will have been produced by a co-op. That’s not a bad thing, it just means that the supermarket is able to buy enough bulk to fill their shelves. They then sell it on at a good profit and at an affordable price point to the consumer.

Most co-ops today have a wide portfolio of wines from the “entry level” cheap and cheerful bottles of “country” wine to the more expensive “top shelf” wines.
Their scope, vision and buying power so strong that many of them are adding individual chateaux and vineyards to their portfolios and marketing them as their high end wines.

 



So why haven’t we heard of co-ops?
Well it’s a bit like large supermarket chains, we all use them and up until recently had little regard for where stock came from. We liked the produce and liked the price, which seems to be the same with co-op wine.

The kicker is that we are falling out of love with the large supermarket chains a bit. There will always be people who use them because it suits their budget but what about the corner store-owner who has been priced out of the market?

Co-op’s, especially the good ones, offer a solution and want small producers to join them which is a win-win situation especially in areas where the small grower has no chance at longevity.

However, the modern winemaking co-op is savvy to market needs and has to offer a wide variety of product in order to attract all budgets. We haven’t heard of them because they are just there, flying under the radar. They speak by their wines instead of their co-op name.

Who knew Nicolas Feuillatte champagne came from a co-op?
You do now and when you realise that it’s champagne you see a lot of then the penny will drop about the power of a co-op. There’s nothing wrong with the product it’s just they realised that to make money they needed to change the way they did things and the co-op was for them.

Co-ops are not bad things; they offer a fine solution to a product heavy industry. They have their market, as do the single vineyard owners who choose to go it alone. Sure they produce a LOT of wine, but not all of it is just plonk anymore.

At the end of the day, co-ops may have had a bad rap but by adapting and bringing about trends in the way wine is marketed they have made wine incredibly popular with the “every day consumer”. That is big business and you can’t argue with that.

 

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Comments

Learnt a lot about euro co-ops through this article. They aren't as common in Australia. Sometimes there are wineries where young, up and coming winemakers can use the equipment and storage for a fee. Anything that encourages sustainable winemaking is a good thing in my book!

Thanks for taking part in this weeks #WINENOT Linky Party - lots of great reading!

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