At their best the co-ops combine great value and utopian communitarianism to winning effect
Cave de Tain Crozes-Hermitage, France 2016 (£12.79, Waitrose) There’s a tendency to divide wine producers into opposing camps. There’s the big boys with their vast factory-like facilities and marketing budgets. Then there’s the small producers, the self-styled ‘artisans’, that come closest to the pastoral imagery of what a wine producer ought to be. Sitting uneasily between the two is a third group, the co-operatives: groups of growers who pool their resources rather than try to go it alone or sell their grapes to one of the big guys. At times, co-ops have had a bad rap, making industrial wines without the slick branding of the big firms. But when they’re well run, like the northern Rhône’s Cave de Tain, with its range of spicy, authentic syrah reds, they offer a winning combination of good value and utopian communitarianism.
Produttori dei Barbaresco, Italy 2014 (£29.95, Noble Green) In Europe, co-operatives can have an enormous influence on their local area, acting as a kind of de-facto local vinous government that can shape the way the local wines are made and perceived. That can be useful if they’re as competent as the Cave de Tain, above, whose members have around 70% of the local vineyards in Crozes-Hermitage and Hermitage, and who do much to promote the interests of both names worldwide. The same is true of one of Italy’s finest co-ops, the Produttori dei Barbaresco. The Produttori’s 60-odd members own many of the best vineyards in Barbaresco, neighbour of Barolo in Piedmont, and year in year out they make some of the zone’s very best nebbiolo reds, with the 2014 Barbaresco typically bright, perfumed and pure.