A cooperative winery is not a concept most people outside of the wine industry are familiar with. Cooperatives, or coops, are owned by their member wine growers. The growers deliver their grapes to the winery at harvest, and the coop makes and sells the wine. Coops do not necessarily have a reputation of making stellar wines. They can have hundreds of members, and while the wines are usually good value, they are not necessarily of great quality.
I had the pleasure, however, of visiting a cooperative that breaks the mold and has really set itself apart. One of my favorite parts of my job is visiting potential new suppliers for our brands, which this week took me to Falset, a tiny town in Catalonia in Spain, set amidst dramatic cliffs an hour inland from the Mediterranean Sea. I spent the afternoon at the Cooperativa Falset- Marça, whose growers are from the two tiny villages of Falset and Marça, producing about 800,000 bottles of DO Montsant per year. Xavi, the managing director, and Manel, their sales agent, welcomed me.
The first thing that impressed me about Cooperative Falset-Marça was the architecture of the winery – the stunning building, in the same form as a church, is actually called a wine cathedral. I love the idea of wine being so sacred that it has it’s own church! It was built by Cèsar Martinell, a contemporary of Gaudi, in 1919.
The coop also highly values the heritage and the history of their region, and pays homage to it with their wines. Bucking the trend in Spain, their wines are made up of a majority (80% or more) of indigenous grapes, as opposed to international varietals that do well commercially but have little soul. In fact, they pay a higher premium to producers for Carinyena and Garnatxa, said indigenous grapes, as opposed to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Their wines do not see much oak, which might mask the beauty of their wines. They let the personality of the terroir shine through.
They also adhere to strict guidelines of compensation to ensure that their growers are bringing them the best grapes possible, in order to make the best quality wines possible. Where many coops compensate their growers based solely on volume, at Cooperativa Falset-Marça, growers are compensated on quality, which is determined by several factors including varietal, phenolic maturity (sugars, tannins and and acidity are measured, health of the grapes, production by hectare, age of the vines and color.
Most impressive, however, is that Cooperativa Falset-Marça has a strong sense of social responsibility not just for its members, but for its towns. They sponsor athletics and other programs in schools, they help their neighbors take care of their land if need be, and even finance projects of their members so that they do not have to turn to a bank. Xavi, the managine directory, smiled as he admitted he sometimes felt more like a mayor than a managing director.
But what does this all mean for the wine? Great things! Each wine I tasted exhibited exactly what a Monstant should: an impressive minerality with a strong backbone and deep red and black fruits. The depth and lengths of the wines blew me away. The care that they take in the vineyards and cellars, and their respect for their region, is evident in the glass. Be on the lookout for a new project with the Cooperativa Falset-Marça and Eagle Eye in the future!