While there are nuances to each model, a wine cooperative is an enterprise collectively owned by a region’s winegrowers—small, medium and large alike—for mutual benefit. Throughout time, co-ops have not only shared resources and acted in unison for the collective good, but they’ve offered a way to help outsiders access smaller growers and producers that may be unable to promote themselves or would otherwise go unnoticed. Though many have been known to yield compelling wine, they fly under the radar today. If you’re curious about the concept, read on for four historically significant, regional winegrower co-ops to try.
Alto Adige, Italy
Wine cooperatives are common across Italy, but the concept reaches new heights in Alto Adige. There, most farms are family owned and encompass 2.5 acres or less. Membership in a co-op allows growers to engage in alternative employment, while keeping the land, and the connection to wine, in the family.
Founded in 1893, Cantina Terlano in South Tyrol is often cited as a benchmark for cooperative success. Today, the association boasts 143 members and encompasses some 469 acres. All wines meet DOC standards, a feat aided by Rudi Kofler, the co-op’s winemaker since 2002. Terlan is one of few wineries in the region with a deep library of vintages that stretches back to the 1960s and beyond.
Cave de Ribeauvillé
Within France, Alsace holds the most important cooperative market. The region’s high standards are driven by a historical commitment to the concept and stiff local competition among co-ops. A star in the crowded sky, Ribeauvillé was the first. It was founded in 1895 by a group of winemakers who restored the vineyards that had been neglected after Alsace’s 1885 annexation to Germany.
Some of the sites date back to the Crusades. Ribeauvillé now manages eight Alsace Grand Cru plots within its approximately 600 acres. Such prized parcels allow the winery and its growers to compete at the top, especially given the grapes for all of its wines are harvested by hand.
Wachau Valley, Austria
Based in a canary-yellow Baroque palace and framed by UNESCO World Heritage Site-designated vineyard terraces, Domäne Wachau often surprises those who expect a cooperative to look utilitarian. Indeed, the beauty of the site sets the tone for the wines.
Though its origins date to the Middle Ages, it later thrived in the 18th century, when the cellar and palace were built under the guidance of the Catholic church. Its success has allowed it to continue to persist in the region, where cooperatives now account for just 10–15% of Austrian wine production. Led by Roman Horvath, MW, winery director, and Heinz Frischengruber, oenologist/winemaker, the association concentrates on small vineyard holdings, hand-picked by family owners. Its Grüner Veltliner and Riesling are not to be missed.
Produttori del Barbaresco
The center of one of Piedmont’s most famous wine regions may not seem an obvious place for a collective project. But in the 1950s, after two world wars, economic depression and fascist leadership, rural grape farmers were struggling. Barbaresco’s parish priest, Don Fiorino Marengo, saw a path forward through partnership. He convinced 19 growers to create a cooperative based on three pillars: only Nebbiolo would be vinified, grower’s grapes would be sold exclusively to the co-op winery and growers would be paid based on fruit quality.
The first few vintages were made in the church basement. Today, Produttori del Barbaresco is 53 members strong and covers almost 300 acres in Barbaresco. The co-op produces a Barbaresco Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), a Nebbiolo Langhe Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) and, in the best vintages, nine Barbaresco Riserva Crus.
Spread across the hot and rocky countryside of Aragon in Northeastern Spain, are more than 700 small grape growers. Many of these farmers couldn’t tend their old vine plots of Grenache (Garnacha) and Carignan (Cariñena) without the strength-in-numbers support achieved by joining their local cooperatives.
Grandes Vinos was formed in 1997 by several smaller regional co-operatives, which united through the help of government and public interest group funding. Today, five coops share risk and resources through Grandes Vinos management. The winery also provides precision farming guidance, as well as produces, markets and sells the wines.
The collaboration ultimately boosted the quality of Cariñena, allowing for a transition from bulk wine to bottled wines that would appeal to foreign markets. In other words, Grandes Vinos helped farming families go global by landing Cariñena wines on the tables and shelves of America’s restaurants and retail stores.