No – this blog isn’t about wines you can find in your local Co-op supermarket (although I’ve found some good bottles there from time to time), I’m thinking about the enterprises that produce a fair amount of Europe’s wine (as well as olive oil and many other processed agricultural products).
In many villages across the continent, you’ll find a number of individually owned smallholdings, often just a couple of acres, sometimes less, producing several different crops, not just grapes and, frequently, tending a few animals, too. Individually, their grape harvest would be no more than enough to make a little wine for themselves and their immediate family and, perhaps, a few bottles to sell at the farm gate. So, joining with their neighbours to form a co-operative is often a good choice. It means that, between them, they can produce wine in quantities that can be sold commercially allowing them to afford better winemaking equipment, employ a specialist winemaker and even someone to market the end products to supermarkets.
Historically, most of the co-operatives concentrated on quantity and quality was often moderate, at best. Today, this is rarely true and many co-operatives are producing excellent wine. For example, look on any supermarket shelf for Chablis and it almost certainly comes from the local co-operative – and very good (and good value) it is too. The same can be said for wines from Cave de Turckheim in Alsace, also in many supermarkets.
Another of my favourite co-operatives, the Cantina di Terlano, was founded in 1893 and is based in the northern Italian region of Alto Adige. It produces some delicious wines including their Pinot Bianco (Corks of Cotham, £18.99).
An enticing nose of apples and limes follows through onto a surprisingly rich palate with flavours of pear, peach and a long, savoury finish. Although attractive on its own as an aperitif, I think it really comes to life with food – the producers recommend pasta carbonara but, really, it would co-operate happily with any fish, poultry or vegetables in a creamy sauce.