Outstanding wine departments offer bottles chosen to taste great. The best go beyond flavor to advance a vision, a perspective, an ethos. These innovators cater to their customers while honoring both economic realities and a deeper mission. By their very nature, co-ops serve such multiple bottom lines, and your wine department should further our values as cooperators.
Baked into the being of every co-op are the Seven Cooperative Principles. These are ideals and actionables. Democracy, community, learning, and economic justice form our decisions as cooperators. Independence too, is central to what roots these enterprises, yet shared interest in building an economy beneficial to all is central to measuring success. The principle states:
COOPERATION AMONG COOPERATIVES
Co-ops believe working together is the best strategy to empower their members and build a stronger co-op economy.
Your wine department is a place where you can honor this principle. Cooperative wineries allow dozens, even hundreds of small growers to vinify and sell under a common label. Each owner receives benefits of a bigger operation without needing to invest heavily in equipment and other capital costs. Hundreds of wine co-ops around the world produce bottles to fit nearly any taste and budget.
Build inclusion and economic impact into your set. This in turn will help educate your owners on issues beyond what to drink at dinner. Wine is a natural entry point to discuss every facet of our world. It is boundless in variety of innovation yet rewards those honoring history. A glass of Riesling lies adjacent to discussing climate change, intersectionality, agrobusiness consolidation, and race.
Taking a place-based approach to your offerings maximizes impact for your members and community at large. Promote wines made by people with tenets aligned with your organization. This can mean small producers and cooperatives instead of mega-wineries. Support local and regional producers. Create a place for your whole community from beginning wine lover to seasoned aficionado. Taking stock of how you and your department can improve must become as routine as placing orders.
Customers’ needs can be met with cooperative-produced wines. Customers no doubt ask for certain types of wine. That can be as simple as a varietal like Cabernet. Maybe organic or natural wines receive attention. Perhaps people love a style, region, or price-point. Take the opportunity to satisfy your customers while educating them on the cooperative economy. Learning needn’t be anything less than delicious.
Cooperative Wine Recommendations
Start improving your wine department today and seek out wines from these five stellar producers. I came to love all of these wines even before learning of their cooperative business model. Time and again they prove steadfast both in terms of honest expression of their origins and as good wines for the money. I’m now into my third decade recommending these wines. They are delightful, affordable, and widely available in the US market.
Produttori del Barbaresco – Barbaresco is a stunning wine from the Piedmont in northwest Italy reminiscent of cherry, roses, tar, black tea, and spice. Their bottlings from the 1990s are among the first single vineyard wines I ever consumed. And fussed over. And guzzled. PdB traces roots back to the 1890s, forming during the first wave of wine co-ops in Italy. A single grape, Nebbiolo is grown by the 51 members. Look for the Langhe Nebbiolo, which is terrific year after year. The eponymous Barbarescos are sublime and comparing single vineyard sites over a meal is truly a treat of a lifetime.
La Riojana – This co-op is named for the region in North West Argentina where 500+ growers produce over 40 million liters of wine annually. As a region, La Riojana is far less famous than Mendoza. This means these wines remain a serious bang for the buck. Well-made varietal wines can be a workhorse for everyday drinking. Buy the entry level wines on deal and stack on the floor. Other wines with organic and Fairtrade certifications are available in select US markets.
Cave de Tain – This is a model of what a modern, foreword thinking co-op can offer. Located in the heart of the famed Hermitage appellation in the Northern Rhône, France, these are serious expressions of Syrah as well as a few whites and rosé. Their Crozes-Hermitage will likely be the most available of their wines with Cornas, St. Joseph, and Hermitage available for a premium. This style of Syrah is driven by plums and savory notes of olive, pepper, and wild herbs. Notes of jerky or pancetta often accompany these robust wines.
Cantina Terlano – Tucked into picturesque country in the Tyrolian Alps, Terlano sets many benchmarks for top white wine in Italy. With attention to quality above all else, their house style is rich yet clean with notes of alpine flowers peeking around creamy minerality. While Pinot Grigio is the easiest sell, I find the Pinot Bianco more seductive and compelling. Müller-Thurgau shows a tropical and spicy edge without loosing bracing acidity. Their single-vineyard wines include some of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world. Look too for their stunning Terlaner a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Pinot Bianco.
Domäne Wachau – Quality and precision define wines from this Austrian producer. Grüner Veltliner accounts for the majority of their production. This grape makes wines that are crisp with white pepper, green pear, and occasional gherkin notes making them excellent food partners. Gruner, especially one of this quality, deserves space in every global wine selection. A bit of red is produced, and dry Rieslings offer exciting expression of place while providing ample pleasure.
When furthering principles we hold as cooperatives, remember: equality includes economic equality. Use our platforms to amplify values we hold, both as individuals and as co-ops. Adding and promoting wines made at cooperatives is a very real and tangible strategy you can implement right now to improve your store. Let’s make cooperation part of our wine programs.
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