A new wave of wine cooperatives and other forward-thinking business models are popping up around the country. These establishments not only allow winemakers the opportunity to create new and innovative bottlings without the traditional investment on equipment and infrastructure, but also bring awareness to underrepresented regions and reach a wider audience of drinkers.
Carlton Winemakers Studio
Willamette Valley, OR
In 2002, winemakers Eric Hamacher and Luisa Ponzi joined forces with Ned and Kirsten Lumpkin. With Ned’s experience as a building contractor, they founded the Carlton Winemakers Studio in the Willamette Valley. It was the first winery built to be an alternating proprietorship in the Pacific Northwest.
Traditional cooperatives are wineries that share ownership of a facility and profits. But alternating proprietorships (APs) wineries rent shared production equipment and they have independent federal permits and provide their own product and supplies. Today, Carlton Winemakers Studio hosts more than a dozen tenant wineries throughout the year.
“There is a misconception that these are young winemakers getting their start,” says Anthony King, general manager of Carlton Winemakers Studio. “In fact, most of the winemakers who have worked at the studio are veterans who have taken the step to start something of their own. Each winemaker working at the studio right now has more than 15 years of experience.”
Some see APs as a way to build the capital necessary to purchase their own facilities. Carlton Winemakers Studio’s alumni includes Soter Vineyards, Brittan Vineyards and Penner-Ash Wine Cellars. Others, like Andrew Rich Wines, prefer to call the facility home.
Its tasting room serves all the tenants’ wines.
“For the tenant wineries, the tasting room is a place they can invite fans to taste their wines,” says King. “For consumers, the studio tasting room is a place where you can taste wines from several producers across the Northwest…made by some of the best winemakers in Oregon.”
Four Eight Wineworks
A historic mining town in the mountains west of Sedona, Jerome might seem an unlikely spot for an AP devoted to wine. But Maynard James Keenan, an Arizona winemaker and Grammy Award-winning vocalist for the band Tool, is known both for unconventional creative approaches and to help break down financial barriers for state winemakers.
Keenan founded Four Eight Wineworks, a nod to Arizona being the 48th state to join the Union, to give winemakers who look to start a label his “metaphorical leg up.”
Keenan’s support of the nearby Yavapai College’s Viticulture and Enology program goes beyond donations. Four Eight invites promising graduates to join the AP. Michael Pierce, winemaker and director of the college’s program, is also a tenant.
The facility’s tasting room looks out over the valley toward the red crags of Sedona. It’s a fitting background to try bold reds like Sangiovese blends and Tempranillo, produced by the Oddity Wine Collective, Caduceus Cellars and Bodega Pierce.
Suisun Valley Wine Co-op
Just east of Napa lies California’s second-oldest American Viticultural Area (AVA), the Suisun Valley. Often overlooked by visitors who flock to its famous neighbors, Suisun has a long history and loyal fan base. In 2007, Doug and Katsuko Sparks of Sunset Cellars opened the Suisun Valley Wine Co-op to give local fans and visitors a convenient hub.
Family-owned, independent microwineries share a tasting room at Suisun Co-op, where they split serving duties. With more than 20 selections in the shared portfolio, California classics are offered alongside alternative varietals like Albariño or field blends like Six Pac, the cofermented blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Trousseau, Grenache and Vermentino.
“Visiting smaller producers, you get to see the cutting edge of the innovation and the experimentation that is happening,” says Fah Sathirapongsasuiti, co-owner of the facility. “It’s what really defines California, the land of explorations. And we shouldn’t settle on Cabernet and Chardonnay. Are there more possibilities out there? These innovations, these smaller guys like the co-op, is where you’re going to see it.”
The Tasting Room Wines of Washington
This cozy venue in Seattle’s Post Alley draws in winemakers from the Olympic Peninsula west of Seattle to the Naches Heights and Yakima Valley AVAs on the eastern side of the Cascades. This coveted location gives these far-flung boutique winemakers an urban home to offer their products. Even those in Seattle, like Locus Wines, keep a spot at the Pike Place Market facility.
“Traffic is pretty huge, especially in the summer,” says Lysle Wilhelmi, general manager of The Tasting Room. “We have a large cruise ship industry in Seattle, and looky-loos that wander through Pike Place Market. We also have really good regular clientele that tend to avoid us in the peak summer.”
Eight limited-production wineries share the counter space. Winemakers are frequently servers, as they share insights into the more than 60 wines available. Most source their grapes from Washington, and pours include Nota Bene’s Malbec, Naches Heights Vineyard’s Syrah and Wilridge’s Chardonnay.