Cooperative wineries often bring to mind worst horrors of industrial winemaking. Cheap fruit from tens or even hundreds of sites blended together with every chemical trick in the book, sulfured to the point where even smelling them causes a headache. These are wines so little regarded that oftentimes the winery is located right next to the a cooperative distillery so the majority of the product can be turned into ethanol with little transportation.
Of course, as with anything that can be summed in a paragraph like the one above, there are exceptions, but perhaps no exception is quite like the cooperative of Barbaresco, or Produttori del Barbaresco (if you want to be fancy and use the real name).
Produttori started as a “white” coop (white coops were started by the church, while red coops were associated with the communist party) in 1958 during a mass exodus of farmers who were selling their land and moving to the cities to find work, a stark contrast to the world renowned wine region that Barbaresco has become. So, troubled by what he considered to be the eventual death of the region, the parish priest Don Fiorino Marengo decided to band together 19 barbaresco producing families in order to get better prices for the wine they were producing (at the time buyers had the upper hand, but with a great number of the best terroirs in the hands of one producer, the relationship shifted, bringing up prices for everyone in the region) and lessen the cost of production. What made Produttori special was the initial dedication to quality that was lacking from most other cooperatives at the time. It was decided from the outset that the only wine produced at the coop would be nebbiolo, and that everyone participating had to sell all of their nebbiolo to the coop (no keeping the good stuff for a family label, and that prices would be based on weight as well as quality (sugar at the time, now sugar and phenolic compounds determine “quality”).
52 years later these rules are still in effect and the quality (especially for the price) is still top notch.
(Re-reading this last bit not in a allergy medication induced haze i realize this sounds a bit like a PR piece, which it is not although i like the wines a great deal, so note to self, don’t blog on drugs).
i got to visit with Aldo Vacca this last March while in Piedmont and taste through all the 2005 cru barbarescos. Aldo is a humble, pleasant, intensely intelligent man with an impeccable command of English. He showed us around the winery and told us the whole story of it, from the times when the great vineyard of Asili had vegetables growing on it, to today when the farmers participating (there are currently 54 families with 280 hectactres of land, up from the original 19 in 1958) have become quite successful. Aldo prides himself on still being merely a salaried employee of the Produttori. In fact all the profits are split between the farmers of the Produttori, there are still no investors or outside owners at all. Aldo talked about how this allowed there to be a split between the winemaking and the farming, and that the farmers were allowed to be fulltime in the vineyards and the winemakers to be fulltime in the winery. It’s not a philosophy i think works for everyone, and more than often i think it leads to problems, but they make it work. (As a side note to this, Bruno Giacosa’s winemaker was echoing the same statement when he talked about how he believed that a lot of barolo and barbaresco tradtions were lost during the move to fully integrate winemaking and farming when in many instances it should be kept apart. To paraphrase (and i will have a full post about this) what he said “some people know how to grow grapes and they should just do that.”)
In another break from the norm for cooperative wineries, Produttori has slices of each of the best terroirs in Barbaresco which are (excuse me if i’m forgetting any) Asili, Moccagata, Montefico, Montestefano, Ovello, Paje, Pora, Rabaja, and Rio Sordo. i tasted the 2005s and my tasting notes would be something like “i would drink these again given the chance.” Lean, classic etc. You get the idea. these aren’t overstuffed fatties or cheap oversulfured crap. i honestly don’t know enough about Barbaresco to give you a breakdown of the different bottlings vis-a-vis their respective terroirs (if i did i guarantee you i’d have to be either richer or a sommelier, only one of which i could do). i would suggest, since this is still sounding pr-ish, you go out and buy a bottle.