In praise of French wine cooperatives.


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Browsing through the Decanter World Wine Awards in the monthly digital magazine yesterday I was struck by how many wine cooperatives were represented especially in France, and specifically in Burgundy, a region we know well and visit annually. In fact wines from three of our favourite cooperatives won awards for their wines; La Chablisienne, Nuiton Beaunoy and Vignerons de Buxy, the latter two contributing to half of our car boot capacity a month ago! In fact it was at that time I wrote an article “Not all winemakers are equal” which outlined the difference between Vignerons, Negociants and Cooperatives, with a paragraph on Wine Cooperatives as follows:

 “Cooperative; a group of vineyard owners who pool their grapes to make wines collectively and market them under the cooperative brand. An example is Nuiton Beaunoy in Beaune which has around 100 owner/members.”

“When visiting a new wine region or area the first thing I do is to look for a local wine cooperative. They always represent excellent value, have good quality control, provide free tastings of ALL their wines and have enthusiastic and friendly staff. As above Nuiton Beaunoy in Beaune are my favourite in all of France, I always get fantastic service from Valerie, they have a full range of wines from basic varietal up to Grand Cru, and are most reasonably priced. To be balanced I also like the Cooperatives La Chablisienne, Vignerons de Buxy and Cave de Turckheim too. In all these cases tasting is free.”

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 Away from these Burgundian cooperatives Andrew Jefford, also writing in Decanter, tells a fascinating story of the  regeneration of a wine cooperative in Languedoc, named Castelbarry, in 2014. Previously the members had no pride in their organisation and didn’t even want the cooperatives name on the bottle labels! However the director, Bernard Pallise, took the unusual step of hiring an ethnologist who researched the history of the cooperative, the village, the district, before writing a book on the study and presenting her findings to the members and villagers.

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“When I presented the book to the members just before Christmas 2014, remembers Pallisé, “three-quarters of them were in tears.” The project not only had a motivating and galvanising effect on members, but it also inspired Marie-Ange Lasmènes herself to become ‘an independent ethnologist”

Jefford ends with a paragraph on what one specific member of the cooperative feels about their organisation and his life within it:

“I’ll leave the last word to grower and co-operative member Yvon Carceller, who inherited 10 ha from his father and now has 26 ha. “The cooperative was the treasure of the village and for me, it still is. Of course, like everyone, there are times when you want to chuck it all in. But somehow you recognise that it’s not too bad, and that it brings you a bit of freedom. You’re your own boss; you don’t have fixed hours. Afterwards, when you have to treat the vines, it doesn’t matter if it’s Sunday or not: you’ve got to go. That’s part of the deal. I could have an easier life, but there you are, it’s in my mentality, I’ve always wanted to grow the domain. We’ll leave it to our children. They’ll do what they want with it, but at least they’ll have a patrimony. Good vineyards will always have value.”

Nuiton Beaunoy
Nuiton Beaunoy – Beaune

I have visited and bought from wine cooperatives for the past 30 years, they were my introduction to wine tasting in France at a time when tasting with vignerons was intimidating at best! Nuiton Beaunoy was my first with a scattering of upturned barrels as tables around the tasting room each with ready opened bottles of EVERY wine they produced, including their most expensive premier Cru. Unsurprisingly, return in subsequent years and ……. they remember you which only adds to one’s trust in the quality of their wines.

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