What’s Up with Italian Wine Cooperatives? #ItalianFWT

What, indeed is an Italian Wine Cooperative? I admit – I had to do a fair amount of research to figure out the answer to this burning question, after I received samples from Prestige Wine Imports of several wines from Italy’s Val d’Oca in Valdobbiadene – the land of Prosecco – both DOC and DOCG (aka Prosecco Superiore).

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The hills of Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, home of Prosecco Superiore. Courtesy of the Consorzio di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore.

First, let’s define a co-operative: it is a collection of winegrowers who have banded together to make and sell wine. Each member of the co-op – a grape grower – gets a fair price for their grapes from the co-op and a central winery facility makes the wine. Okay, that’s pretty simple, right? But what’s cool is how and why they started. It’s like a food co-op – where owners (aka locals, shoppers) all participate in the retail operation.

After World War II, Italy’s vineyards and wineries were devastated. In the early 1950s, Italian winegrowers, largely in the northern part of the country, realized the only option was to work together to try to recover economically. They were only selling bulk wines back then – aka vino sfiuso. By the early 1980s though, many of the co-ops had grown large enough and become commercially stable enough to create their own brands and sell bottled wine.

Val d’Oca in Valdobbiadene is one such co-op.  La Cantina Produttori di Valdobbiadene Val d’Oca was founded in 1952 and specializes exclusively in sparkling wines, including Prosecco and Prosecco Superiore.  As a co-op, Val d’Oca has 600 growers, or members. Four of their wines are imported to the U.S., including two that I got to taste:

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Val d’Oca Sparkling Rosé Extra Dry ($12.99 SRP)  What a fun bottle of pink fizz! Made from a blend of white and red grapes, this sparkling rosé is buzzing with raspberry and strawberry flavors and has a savory finish. It is great on its on or with salty cheeses, salads, grilled seafood or chicken.

Val d’Oca Millesimato Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry ($17.99 SRP) Yes! I ADORE Prosecco Superiore (full disclosure, I do some work for the Consorzio di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore) and I had not tried Val d’Oca’s Prosecco DOCG. It’s 85 percent Glera (the main grape in all Proseccos) and 15 percent Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay. It’s got intensely appealing Granny Smith apple and pear notes, followed by a parade of light floral notes. It’s a delight, and super food-friendly. I’d pair it with any type of pasta (without tomato sauce – too much acidity), like Carbonara or with truffle butter, roasted chicken – I could go on and on.

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Okay – back to the wine co-operatives. To put the whole thing into context, let’s talk about some wine companies or brands that are familiar.  You know Mezzacorona? Yeah, they make a lot of Pinot Grigio (huge in the U.S.), Moscato, Merlot, Cabernet and Pinot Noir. Mezzacorona is a co-op of 1,600 growers – almost as big as Riunite (the wine that gave Lambrusco a bad name, but it now making a come-back, especially with Millennials) which has 1,700 members. Riunite is Italy’s largest wine co-op and the largest wine co-op in all of Europe.

The important thing to know about Italian wine co-operatives is this: just because they are large, does not mean they compromise on quality. In the case of Val d’Oca, which makes Prosecco DOC and Prosecco Superiore DOCG, they have to meet all of the strict requirements of the appellation. Prosecco Superiore wines, for instance, must be harvested  by hand – which is no easy task, as the hills of the region are steep – really steep. Plus, I like that these wines are rooted in a spirit of team work and camaraderie – grape growers working together to create beautiful Italian wines for the world to enjoy. Cin cin (pronounced chin chin) as they say in Italy!

Want to learn more about Italian Wine Cooperatives? Join the #Italian Food Wine Travel Group on Twitter on Saturday, Feb. 1 at 10 a.m. CST.  Just use #ItalianFWT and you’ll find us. And check out these other articles by my wine writing friends

 

17 comments

  1. I had to do some research as well. I guess I had never really given wine co-ops any thought even being familiar with farm co-ops living in the country as I do.

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  2. Learned a few things from your article, thanks Liz! I’ve not the pleasure of tasting any Val d’Oca and fear it might be some time as it’s hard to find other than huge brands like Riunite and Mezzacorona here. Cin, cin!

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  3. A lot of really informative points here, thanks for sharing! I’ll definitely be on the look out for Val d’Oca now.

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  4. Hey Liz-
    Great background and history in your post. I also love your allegro (light-hearted tone) when you write about wines. You make them very accessible – the name of the game. I also like how you slipped in the Riunite references…..
    Cheers,
    Susannah

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  5. I had not given wine cooperatives much thought before the Italian FWT group took it up as a topic. The history is interesting and I had no idea they represent 60% of the wines made in Italy. To cooperatives, Prosecco, and research…cin cin!

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